The Path of Least Resistance
Embrace Your Wobbles: Wisdom from the Yoga Mat
By: Priscilla Shumway, Editor of Embrace Your Wobbles: Wisdom from the Yoga Mat
“Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in. And this is the point of spiritual practice; to make us teachable; to open up our hearts and focus our awareness so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” -Rolf Gates
In the New Year as we begin our practice again and again, we will face challenging poses. Along with these poses we may experience wobbles: those physical and mental challenges that are an unavoidable part of our yoga practice and life itself. Can we become aware of an ongoing inner dialogue of multiple voices, each offering an opinion on how we should proceed when we encounter these wobbles? Here is what you might hear:
“Hey, take it easy. You don’t have to prove anything. This is your practice. Take a break in child’s pose.”
“Oh, no. No breaks. Keep up the hard work. If you keep up these classes, you will build strength and not have these pesky shoulders and elbow problems.”
“Hey, slow down. Don’t hurt yourself. Is it your ego that is pushing you? Are you trying to keep up with the younger students to prove a point?”
“No, no! You always take easy classes. You know you have to build bone mass and muscle as you get older. These harder classes are good for you. The more down dogs and planks you do, the stronger you will get, and your shoulder problems will go away.”
“If I hurt myself I won’t want to come to class. I don’t have to work so hard. I can get just as much out of the gentle classes.”
All of us have multiple voices inside us. They are part of the ongoing narrative of the mind. Each voice expresses a specific opinion regarding how we should respond to a wobble (the challenge at the moment). Sylvia Boorstein, a teacher in the Buddhist tradition, suggests we name these voices. She refers to that first voice in my ongoing dialogue as the grandmother’s voice, the voice suggesting, “Take it easy. Don’t push. In fact, why not sit down and have a cup of tea!” Wisdom is understanding in every moment which voice to listen to and which to ignore. Our inner dialog often vacillates between taking the path of least resistance (the grandmother’s voice) versus the path that embraces the challenge. The issue of trying to discern which voice to listen to at any given moment is the lesson here.
How many voices do you hear when you experience a wobble? Which voice do you listen to, and which do you ignore?
Try to think of a wobble as a call to action, but there are usually multiple options for responding to any wobble. How do I decide which is appropriate for me at that moment, on that day?
FROM THOUGHT TO ACTION: DISCERNING WHICH PATH TO TAKE
In yoga, as in life, we are often faced with deciding which path or action to take from among several options that may vary in their degree of challenge. For example, which yoga class to take (easy versus hard) or the decision to use (or not use) external support during a challenging pose. According to Wikipedia, in physics, the path of least resistance is defined as the “physical pathway that provides the least resistance to forward motion by a given object or entity, among a set of alternative paths.” The path of least resistance represents the easiest course of action. It is the action requiring the least effort and resulting in the least upheaval, unpleasantness, or drama. According to numerous psychologists, humans are hardwired to take the easy route. More often, we choose to rely on experience and continue with what has worked for us before or what is most pleasant and less painful. Perhaps the love of gentle yoga classes reflects this hardwired impulse to take the easy route. While taking the path of least resistance may be our default inclination, it is crucial in life, both on and off the mat, to pause and consider if this is the right path.
Choosing the path of least resistance may determine how we deal with a friend with whom we disagree. By not challenging them and stating our truth to avoid unpleasantness, we may be taking the path of least resistance. Staying quiet instead of confronting an issue may be taking the path of least resistance. But it is only by facing our inner resistance, ignoring our grandmother’s voice, and engaging in a challenge that we grow and move forward. Wobbles exist more often on the path of greatest resistance.
“When you are challenged, you are asked to become more than you were. That means creating new perspectives, acquiring new skills, and pushing boundaries. In other words, you have to expand your understanding to be able to overcome the obstacles facing you.” (Thomas Oppong, author and columnist.)
And so, on the mat and off, when faced with life’s challenges and wobbles, it is vital that we pause and ask ourselves, which path should I take? Is this a time to take the path of least resistance or accept the more challenging path? Or is there a Middle Way?
TAKING THE MIDDLE WAY
Buddha describes the Middle Way as the path of moderation, the way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self- denial. Is there a Middle Way beyond the path of least resistance and the path of the most resistance? When faced with wobbles both on and off the yoga mat, can I find a Middle Way, neither avoiding all nor accepting all challenges? I believe I can.
Here are some Middle Way intentions to consider:
- To notice but not judge wobbles—being aware of what is difficult or challenging in the present moment.
- When encountering a wobble (either physical or mental), to notice the inclination to take the path of least resistance and to pause and consider alternative paths.
- To challenge yourself both on and off the yoga mat to engage in the challenge, not always taking the path of least resistance.
- On your yoga mat, practice a few down dogs and planks in every gentle class to build strength and endurance. In more challenging classes, allow yourself not to complete all the vinyasas if your body tells you to rest.
- To be grateful to your body for allowing you to experience wobbles, for they remind you that you are still showing up to practice.
To experience wobbles in life both on and off the yoga mat is to realize we are still learning, still growing—and this is extremely important. Each day, each breath brings with it another opportunity to experience the gifts and wobbles of life!
Find out more about this amazing book, Embrace Your Wobbles: Wisdom from the Yoga Mat at www.embraceyourwobblesyoga.com