Using your energy wisely: choosing the right effort for you

Thoughts from a blog I wrote for City Survivor nutrition this week...


As we move through transitions of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been thinking about what we may choose to ‘go back’ to doing. What don’t we want to spend time on, and what do we want to do more of. Where do you find a healthy energetic exchange from which you take what fuels you well, in order that you can best serve others?

Perhaps you have thought more about your health, and ‘trying’ to reduce stress, trying to improve your eating habits, trying to take more exercise, ‘trying’ yoga. The word 'try' is interesting...we’ll come back to this…

In yoga philosophy there is a concept of 'right effort’ – vairagyam – which encourages the notion of ‘doing without expectation towards a desired outcome'. This correlates with another concept of satya or truthfulness/honesty. These are quite complicated notions, but useful to unpick…do you find yourself acting to please others, gain approval and feel liked? What do you do to keep yourself well enough to be truly present for family, friends or animals that really need your love and attention?

In physical yoga practises, or asana, we move the body in sync with breath and a focused gaze (drishti) to encourage clear presence of mind. After moving energy around the body, with focused intention, we close each practise with a quiet resting posture (savasana). There is a balance between doing with focused attention and taking time to sit with quiet awareness. Tuning into what you needed to ‘have a go’ at, and where you resisted making effort. By challenging the body, we start to unravel ingrained tensions, and often face the expectations of ego – in a nutshell, whether you think you can, can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to try.

Back to trying….I've thought about this after a teacher of mine highlighted it a while ago. You can 'do', 'be' or even 'want' something according to the means available to you, but 'trying' implies resistance and lack of conviction/commitment.

What about beginners or children I hear you cry? Isn’t it good to reassure them to 'try their best'? Well, yes of course it is, but usually they are already DOING the thing in this situation, and perhaps they didn’t have a choice (another subject entirely!)

How often have you suppressed guilt, anxiety, fear in responding to invitations with, 'I'll try to make it'?

Periodically, I still create this tension for myself in taking on too much work, planning social gatherings, hosting events etc etc! I keep learning to reflect on what will serve me and those I care for best. To kindly and truthfully express how I feel. To acknowledge what elevates me and what depletes me to a state where I no longer have energy for my family and work, or time to practise yoga, learn music, eat well, sleep well. This is an expression of ‘right effort’ and truthfulness. Removing concerns of the ego about being liked or thought well of.

Challenging my body with the dynamic asana practises of ashtanga yoga has strengthened my body and increased my mental focus. It has reduced my anxiety about what I should or shouldn’t do and allowed me to recognise what I can spend time on without guilt. Sometimes, I choose to make time for my practise over other things as I feel it keeps my awareness focused on healthier patterns of thinking and balances my other habits in eating, drinking, sleeping better. Not perfectly, just with enough effort of the right kind to keep a good enough balance! I notice when not to push, and when I am simply being resistant or fearful of change.

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