The effort in effortless
Can there be effort in being effortless?
No, we are keen to say, since literally and logically, the two are contradictory. If anything is effortless, then it is clearly, without any effort, as we would understand from the suffix ‘-less’.
But is that really the case?
I started thinking about this concept of effort and effortless following the discussion about the eight limbs of Yoga, among which there is Dharana and Dhyana.
Dharana is when the mind is concentrated upon an external object or an internal idea, to the exclusion of all other thoughts. To put things simple, it can be likened to intense concentration. Dhyana, on the other hand, while also requiring deep intense concentration, is more concerned about directing an unbroken flow of thought towards God to the exclusion of other sensual perception. It is meditation.
Directing. An unbroken flow of thought. Towards God. Exclusion of perception. Were these the differentiating elements, I asked.
Not really, I was told. In fact, what distinguishes the two seemingly similar concepts is the notion of effort. Dharana requires effort: there is a need to consolidate one’s energy into the mere act of concentration. Dhyana, in contrast, is effortless. Meaning to say, all that about maintaining that unbroken flow of thought, making sure it is directed to God, ensuring that all senses of perception are blocked out, become effortless.
Interestingly, I was also told that the state of being effortless is also what we aim to work towards in the asana practice. Eventually, the Ashtanga practice, instead of being sympathetic, will become parasympathetic.
That, I must confess, is contradictory and a bit difficult to accept.
Contradictory because, for the past few days, my towels have been soaking wet after the asana practice, and they have only been getting wetter (and I switching to bigger towels). Clearly, my body was getting a good cardiovascular workout. Not only does my heart beat faster, my muscles too work harder, constantly pushing towards the next level. How can this intensity ever become parasympathetic?
Never, I would be keen to tell you.
But as the number of days passed, slowly, I think I am beginning to understand the technique behind the effortless.
There is an effort to focus the mind so intently while going into the asana that the alignment just snaps into place. There is no unnecessary effort expended in tucking elevated buttocks or protruding tailbones.
There is an effort to lengthen the Ujjayi breath to a rate as long as one needs to get into the pose, thus making sure that the necessary prana is supplied to the relevant muscles. There is thus no unnecessary effort expended contracting and relaxing the intercostals and diaphragm to grasp for air.
There is an effort to fix the dristi to one spot the moment one gets into the pose. There is therefore no unnecessary effort is trying to still the body because the mind is already still.
There is an effort to make sure the mind, body and soul stays as one the moment the practice begins. With that in place, there is hence no necessity to put in any more effort.
And that is why eventually the practice will become para-sympathetic. Because with an extended practice, the mind, body and soul now is in such an agile and mobile state that all just flows nicely into place.
It has become effortless because the effort was always there. It can become effortless only when the effort is always there.