The word yoga translates as “union” or “yoke.” In our practices, we are often working to bring into union, balance, and harmony oppositional actions and energies.
One of the teachings we learn from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the idea of effort and ease. “Sthira sukham asanam (2, 46).” Sthira means stable or steady. Sukham means comfortable or easy. Asanam is yoga pose. Essentially, then, this verse can translate as “steady, easy pose.” In his translation of the Sutras, Mukunda Stiles interprets the verse as “Yoga pose is a steady and comfortable position.” What we can take away from this teaching and bring into our practices is the incorporation of both a sense of effort and ease, strengthening and softening in our poses. Where can we find a balance between the amount of effort and strength we use in a pose, and where, in that same pose, can we ease up and soften – even if it is just our jaw and facial muscles.
Our breath itself, an essential component of our practice, is a pulsation of opposite energies. With our inhales, we fill and expand, while on our exhales, we draw in. Both actions create a full breath, a whole breath.
As we work to find the union of opposites in the physical aspects of our practices, over time, we realize that this work and harmony can be done and found on more and more subtle levels.
One of my favorite yogic myths is the story of the goddess Lakshmi. In part of the story, the gods and goddesses had been cursed and lost their powers. In order to restore their powers, they needed to obtain the elixir of immortality (amrita) from the depths of the ocean by churning the ocean until the elixir arose. The condition, though, was that all the gods and the goddesses had to work together with the demons to churn the ocean.
How I have learned these stories is that we, the readers and the listeners, are every character – the gods and the goddesses and the demons. That we, as humans, hold qualities and characteristics from each character. Usually, the qualities we love are the characteristics embodied in the gods and goddesses, while the qualities we don’t embrace so readily, and at times maybe even try to cast aside or disown, are those of the demons (pride; greed; jealousy; limiting beliefs about ourselves, our gifts, and our potential).
In this story, all the parts of ourselves get called upon to come together. The parts we love along with the parts we may rather keep hidden. But, when we bring all the parts of ourselves together, what even appear to be disparate parts, we come into wholeness.
It is through our practices that we build the courage, strength, and skill to acknowledge and turn toward those shadow parts of ourselves. And when we do that, we begin to shed light there. As the light begins to infiltrate the shadows, they begin to dissipate and change. It is in this work that great transformation occurs.
Light and dark, expansion and drawing in, steadiness and ease. These are just a few examples of the the coming together, the yoking of opposites, we work with in our practices. Instead of one or the other, we can practice with the idea of both/and.