Virya: Right effort in Yoga

I have been curious this week in my practice about the yogic principle of virya. The sanskrit word virya is often translated as 'effort' but can also be translated as 'energy', 'diligence' or 'enthusiasm'. 

While it seems a simple concept that we of course should apply some effort in our practice, I found it interesting when I really started to look at the idea of 'right effort'.

Do we really apply as much effort as we could or should in some areas of our practice? Or perhaps do we sometimes apply too much effort?

In asana (the physical practice of yoga), applying too much effort to a pose or sequence can result in wasted energy, excess tension, and frustration. More is not always more! Too much effort can go hand in hand with a desire to 'succeed' at a pose which can result in striving and forcing. Too much effort can couple with the internal expectation to always practice most intense or difficult version of every pose, even if it's in conflict with energy levels or physical ability.
At the other end of the scale, too little effort applied to a yoga practice can mean one does not reach their full potential. Someone applying too little effort may not receive some of the physical or mental benefits of a practice. Too little effort may result in no practice at all, or staying away from the internal or external work required to build mental and physical strength and focus.

'Right effort' is in between too much, and too little. It can look like modifications for some, and facing challenges for others. It may also vary from task to task - I know there are poses in my yoga practice where I tend to apply too much effort, and others where I do not apply enough. This is true both on and off the mat, though we often err towards one more habitually than the other.

There is no prescribed amount of effort that is required to find balance and it will vary day to day, task to task, and change depending on the situation you're in.
I invite you to invite the practice of virya to be your guide when you next step on your yoga mat, when you're in the gym, running, meditating or singing.

Journal: The External Practice Of Saucha

Saucha JournalThis week as we explore the external practice of Saucha/cleanliness our journal reflections encourage you to explore how the state of the space around you affects your inner state. Make a cup of tea (or something similarly delicious) and take some time to journal and contemplate the following questions:

How do you feel when your space is cluttered and/or unclean?
(How does it affect your ability to relax? To create? To work? To think? To rest? To enjoy unexpected company?)
How do you feel when your work/home space is clean and tidy?
(How does it affect your ability to relax/create/work/think/rest or enjoy unexpected company?)

Is there one place in your home that makes you feel particularly calm or happy when it's clean and clear?

What simple habits or routines would help you to keep that space clear?

Saucha: How to Clean Your Yoga Mat

In our saucha practice I'm not going to tell you how to clean your house or how to take a shower, however it's not always clear how to care for our yoga mats!

Jade mats banner

If you bought your mat from the studio in the last 6-12 months, it's a Jade yoga mat. These are amazing grippy mats, but some yoga mat cleaners could do more harm than good if they contain essential oils. Essential oils clog up Jade mat's 'pores' which over time will make it slippery and ineffective. Cleaners that contain alcohol and petroleum based solvents can also damage the mat and break it down. Remember to keep your mat out of direct sunlight when storing or drying as these eco-friendly mats will start to break down in sunlight.

Thankfully keeping your Jade mat clean is super easy!

For regular maintenance and routine cleaning, wipe down your mat with a damp cloth after your practice. Allow your mat to dry before rolling up and storing. For a regular practice this can be weekly, but if you have a vigorous practice you may prefer to do this after every use.

For a deeper clean, mix up a solution of 3 parts water: 1 part white vinegar. (We always have a bottle of this mixture available in the studio). Spray your mat all over then rinse with hot water or wash off with a cloth to get rid of any vinegar-y smell. Hang or lay flat to dry before storing.

Contemplation On The Physical Practice of Saucha/Cleanliness

saucha 2

I'd like you to consider how your physical surroundings affect your inner state and day to day experience. Imagine the following two scenarios and consider how you would feel before, during and after the yoga practice for each story. Please also take moment to consider how other yogis in your class may be affected by your actions and energy in each case.

Scenario 1:

You're running late; you stayed in bed until the last possible moment and now you're regretting it. Falling over clothes and shoes as you get up, you're certain that there's a gremlin living in your home whose sole purpose in life is to challenge you in the morning. How else could everything you need be missing every day? You eventually locate a top that will do; you don't like it but you can't see the wood for the trees in your closet and it stresses you out to spend any more time in there than is absolutely necessary. You find a sports bra among the used clothes on the floor and give it a cursory sniff to make sure it's not too offensive; it's borderline but will do as long as you don't get too close to anyone. After a frantic search you find your car keys under the pile of yesterday evening's mail, glance at the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink, make a wish that the dish-washing-fairy would stop by, and fly out of the house.

Driving at breakneck speed to the yoga studio, clock-watching the whole way, you feel like you hit every single red light in town. Then, as the road narrows to single lane traffic, you end up behind a driver that moves at a glacial pace. Arriving late, you run into the studio, heart racing and flustered, and quickly try to unravel your mat out of its mashed up state to put on the studio floor. It won't lay flat because it's been shoehorned into a corner of your car since the last time you used it, and it has a slightly iffy smell – somewhere between sweaty and wet-dog. You hope your mat-neighbour doesn't notice. It's wonky but you don't feel like you have time to faff so jump into the practice and try to shake off the hurried and anxious feelings you're experiencing. As you start to flow and move those feeling start to settle, but they're replaced by a feeling of unease every time you're in downdog and look at the wrinkles and grime in your mat. You start to dread the prospect of any face down poses. You're distracted in your wide legged forward fold by your handbag that you threw on top of the prop rack as you entered. You wonder if anyone else is looking at it too. It's overflowing with receipts, sweet wrappers and miscellaneous junk you've shoved in there. You contemplate the potential correlation between the weight of this overflowing bag and the shoulder pain you've been feeling lately. You're moving through the practice but can't help wondering if anyone else is aware of the smell drifting up from your mat, or is it your sports bra? you've spent most of the session praying that the instructor doesn't come to assist you in a pose.

It's the end of class and time to relax. You try to enjoy the peaceful environment of the studio but can't help but think about how you need to give the dog a bath. Or your mat. Or both. You ponder the logistics of cleaning both at the same time. Then, in the middle of meditation you're struck with the horrible feeling your phone isn't silenced. Panic and dread start to set in. You arrived in such a rush you're not sure if it's on or off. You spend the remainder of your meditation willing your phone to stay quiet. 'What is the etiquette for unsilenced phones?' You wonder. 'Do I get up and turn it off? I'll be so embarrassed! Do I just pretend like it's not mine? Please don't ring, please don’t ring. Why do i have that stupid song as my ringtone? I'll die if it goes off now, please don't ring!'

With the prospect of an unwelcome phone interruption you're on high alert and every second feels like an eternity. The moment class is finished so you leap up and quickly check that it's off. You bundle up the studio blanket you used and shove it haphazardly into the prop rack, falling over the shoes that you left randomly in the middle of the floor. You scrunch your mat back up and wrestle it into some carriable form and pin it under your arm, pick up your water, erupting bag, car keys and now-silenced phone. You notice you left your other props out on the floor but your hands are too full to want to mess with them so figure someone else will put them away. You dash out of the studio hoping to get to the car without dropping everything and hurry home.

Scenario 2:

You wake up early feeling a little sleepy but easily navigate from your bed to your bathroom and step into a warm shower. You get out of the shower feeling fresh, a little more awake and ready for the day ahead. Everything is where you expect it to be so getting ready in the morning is simple. Your recently paired-down wardrobe means it's always easy to find clothes that fit and are clean. No longer do you have to wade through clothes that don't fit or which you don't like; picking out clothes is a breeze. You drink some coffee and eat a light breakfast while reading a few pages from your current book. You take the time to clean up your dishes and put away your coffee pot, then glance around at your home feeling content and calm. You remove your car keys from their hook, pick up your yoga mat and bag, and leave with plenty of time to get to the studio. You're stopped along the way but see red lights and slow drivers as an opportunity to slow down and breathe, and you still arrive a little early. As you enter the studio you take off your shoes and put them on the rack, silence your phone, and put it in your bag with your car keys, which you hang near your shoes. You carefully unroll your mat to face the front, straightening it up so that you feel aligned with the room and spend a few moments catching up with your instructor. You take the props you need from the racks and place them next to you before taking a seat and settling into the space in preparation for your practice. You feel so comforted when you're on your yoga mat, and the studio is welcoming and calming. Some days you spend moments before the practice enjoying the company of fellow yogis chatting and making new friends, other days you sit quietly or lay on a bolster and begin to breathe away any stress you've been feeling. You feel like your mat is an island of calm in a fast paced world; a place where it's ok to be still. You enjoy your practice and its challenges, and stay on your mat for a short time after the practice has ended to enjoy the feeling of calm you cultivated. As yogis around you start to get up, you too start to move. You carefully refold your blanket and place it back in the rack ready for the next yogi that needs it. You put all your props back as you found them and roll your mat up, putting it in its carry strap so it won't unravel in your car. Retrieving your personal items from where you left them and sliding on your shoes, you say your goodbyes to your classmates and step outside ready for the day ahead.