In looking back on 2013, I see a major pattern. Many of us have been “manifesting” our adrenal glands to exhaustion, zonking out our immune systems in the endless quest for being, doing and having more.
The adrenal glands are those tiny powerhouses perched atop our kidneys, and these glands help regulate our hormone and energy levels, which of course is key to immune function and overall vitality. With our constant push for self-improvement, we’re stressing the adrenals, doing ourselves more harm than good.
We are good enough. We are doing enough. We don’t need to burn ourselves out to prove it.
Slept all night but wake up feeling tired? Feel as though you’re pushing yourself through the day? Relying on coffee and sugar for energy boosts? These are all red flags for adrenal burnout.
It’s important to ask ourselves what we’re striving to improve—and why. Do we really need to change an aspect of our lives, or are we clinging to an unreachable perfection? Are we working hard just to feel like we’re making progress toward some ideal future?
The old adage “No pain, no gain” doesn’t serve us well here. If we’re not careful, the monster of “not good enough” can sneak up on us when the self-help doesn’t pan out. Then we’re left beating ourselves up and shrinking from the truth: we’re plenty good enough as we are, if we can remember to recognize it.
It’s a new year, and we’ve got a clean slate. So let’s start 2014 with a relaxed approach, one that taps into and appreciates the power of the present. We don’t need to look far or work ourselves to the bone to find happiness and peace. We already have both. It’s a matter of attuning ourselves to our natural state of balance.
With balance as our intention for 2014, I turn to the Yoga Sutras for reference. In the Sutras, Patanjali speaks of sthira and sukha, the respective Sanskrit words for effort and ease. The ancient yogi was referring to the mind-body balance we find when practicing asanas with a relaxed strength. But we can broaden the sthira-sukha concept to include balance in other areas of our lives.
Effort and ease.
On the one hand, we need to invest energy in the task before us, be it our asana practice or fulfilling a dream. On the other, we need to rest and restore that energy. How do we find balance between these two opposing yet interdependent states? Through effortless effort.
Think of bakasana, or crow pose. To power up your arms, you first root your palms to the mat, creating a strong base. The solid base, along with a good dose of core strength, allows your legs and head to lightly rest in their positions as equal counterweights, keeping you balanced. If the head dips too far forward or the legs slip, you lose the pose. Above all, there’s the breath and your state of mind. No pose can feel balanced with strained breathing and strained mind, no matter how perfect it may look from the outside.
There’s even a bit of sthira-sukha in savasana, or corpse pose: It takes an aware effort to fully sink into the mat and let go for those last minutes of final relaxation.
The sthira-sukha we create in poses gives us a metaphorical compass for our everyday situations. Consider a time you smoothly moved through a tricky situation at work or home. You probably saw the scene for what it was, took a full breath and then grounded yourself so that you could feel lighter and stay calm. Through your deep connection to the present, you remained balanced, in total alignment with your whole being.
Surrender to the Present
Connecting to the present is vital to mastering sthira-sukha. There’s a level of surrendering to each situation, as it unfolds. We can’t control what happens, really. But we can control how we play whatever ball life tosses in our court.
When we harness the mind and body to the present, we can observe our thoughts or feelings without journeying down the proverbial rabbit hole, where the damaging mental chatter lives. We are good enough. We are doing enough. We don’t need to burn ourselves out to prove it. Maybe, in fact, we’ve got nothing to prove.
We just need to appreciate the here and now. So let go of the pressure nozzle and enjoy the sweet fruits of your effortless effort. Your immune system will thank you.