Most people don't show up to a yoga class with the intention of doing less than their best. It's usually just the opposite. We want to get our money's worth--learn something new, get closer to our goals, burn a few calories, and feel like we're making progress. In this culture, we're go-getters. We work hard, play hard--and when we fall, we fall hard!
If I've learned anything from my practice it's that trying hard doesn't always lead us to our goals. It is possible to try too hard. Trust me. If trying too hard were a place, I'd be the queen! If you try to force your body into a pose you're not ready for it might work for a while, but over time the outcome will not be pretty. Slow and steady almost always is more effective. There has to be some effort, though. So how can you tell if you're trying too hard?
Here are a few signs that you might need a little less effort and a little more ease in your yoga practice.
1. You stop breathing. When you're trying to muscle yourself into a pose variation that's too difficult, you might notice your breathing stops momentarily. Sometimes, just backing off a little bit and taking a deep, conscious breath will help you to go deeper and put less strain on your body.
2. You hurt yourself. When you hurt yourself practicing yoga, it's your body's way of telling you (more like screaming at you, perhaps?) to back off. Injuries aren't fun for anyone, but sometimes we need them so we can learn not to push so hard.
3. Your face scrunches up, your brow furrows, your forehead wrinkles, your jaw clenches, and your muscles are tight. These are all physical signs that you're trying too hard. They show up in other activities, too--even when you're sitting behind your desk at work or having an intense conversation with a friend.
4. You notice yourself quietly comparing your practice to someone else's practice. There's no place for comparisons in yoga. Your practice isn't supposed to look like your neighbor's. The sooner you become happy and content in your own body, the faster you'll progress as a yoga student (both physically and otherwise).
5. You find it difficult to relax during Savasana and other resting poses. This sign shows up when we're trying too hard in our asana practice, but it also shows up when we're trying too hard in life. I know on the days when I'm stressed out, it feels close to impossible for me to sit to meditate.
I know that trying too hard might always be my tendency--and I'm sure that if it weren't for yoga I wouldn't even know that about myself. Through consistent practice I'm learning to soften both on and off the mat.