I have been mulling over the concept of softening. In every meditation class and every yoga class I have taken there has always been some kind of instruction around softening. The softening may be about anything from putting attention to softening parts of the physical body as an entry into meditation or facial expressions during an especially challenging yoga pose. And I always find it helpful, if not essential, to these practices.
This softening is now coming into my awareness as a kind of doorway. For me, and I think many others, one of the great challenges of a meditation or yoga practice, or any other kind of spiritual practice, is taking it beyond the boundaries of the actual practice and carrying it into daily life. So, when we are driving somewhere and worried about being late we can fall back on a practice of focusing on the breath. Or when we are under pressure at work or school we can find places to soften in our body, even while the pressure continues.
This can be pretty challenging. I know. I used to have a yoga teacher that would always remind us in class that crunching up your face in agony doesn’t actually help you do the pose any better. When I first heard this it was a revelation for me. I remember holding the yoga pose and concentrating very hard to let my face soften, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my face held no power over the pose. And it actually made the pose feel easier and stronger. I felt stronger! What??? I feel stronger when I’m as relaxing as much as possible, even when under a good deal of physical or emotional stress. That’s cool.
As I relaxed all the muscles that weren’t necessary to what I was doing in the moment I found out where I was wasting energy. And I became aware that tightening my face and holding an inner tension only made everything feel more difficult. I was sending signals of angst and danger to my body and Being that were totally unnecessary. And once I learned to soften, I found a deeper joy and sense of play, even in the most difficult poses.
The same has been true for sitting in meditation, sitting in traffic or having an emotionally difficult conversation. How can I only hold strength in the parts of myself needed for the task at hand, and then soften everything else? Well, it begins in some kind of daily practice. I think everyone has to find the practices that work best for their life. And it can change from day to day or year to year. Your practice is also something you want to regularly check in with and see if you are holding onto an old practice that no longer serves you. You can soften into the idea of finding new practices to play with. Sometimes, even changing a spiritual practice can bring up tension. So, play with relaxing into that as well.
And as you experiment with new practices or continue on with practices that are tried and true, take a few moments to see if there is anywhere in your body or inner attitude that you are holding with tension. See if you can breathe into that physical or emotional space and let it soften. And as you step out of your practice and into your day, drop back into that same awareness from time to time. Is there tension in your body that you can soften? In there tension in your mind or patterns of thought that you can release? Notice how softening effects what you are doing and how you are perceiving yourself, your day, your life or the situation. Do you need all that tension in your body to wash dishes or drive to the store? Does it help you write that report at work when you are holding all that tension in your mind? Play with it. As you take a moment to soften the outer area of your forehead all the way into the center of your mind, do you notice any difference in the quality of your work? Do you notice yourself having new or unexpected creative ideas or solutions?
I would love to hear your experiences with the practice and play of softening.
And remember, you are LOVED.