When first starting yoga, combining effort and surrender seems contradictory, as you deepen your practice you will begin to appreciate how the two seemingly distinct states can co-exist. Deep stretches such as Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose) helped me embody relaxed effort. The reclined position of this pose naturally encourages a sense of surrender. It also targets your hamstrings without stressing your lower back; the floor stabilizes your back and you can adjust your strap to suit your needs.
Reinvigorate and Relax
Relax into the ease of this moment. Draw your right knee toward your chest. Wrap your belt around the arch of your foot, holding one end in each hand. Slowly extend your right leg toward the ceiling, and, keeping the backs of your shoulders on the floor, straighten your arms. Make sure to keep your hands as far apart as your shoulders. While your bottom leg presses into the floor, extend your other leg until you create a thorough, sustainable stretch in the hamstrings. Wherever you are, breathe smoothly and imagine your breath bathing your hamstrings and calves, relieving tension. As you reach your top leg up, remember to keep your bottom leg rooted into the floor.
Tweak Your Technique
Ground the back of your bottom thigh again, feel both legs working in tandem. As the bottom leg roots down, see if you can feel your top leg soar up. Articulate both feet, spreading across the balls of each, and feel their complex architecture awaken. Fill your body with smooth, nourishing breath. Now that your body is fully awake, you can try cultivating relaxation. Stay for 10 to 20 breaths.
Add Your Abs
In this phase, you’ll be adding more effort. Gently firm your abdominal wall by drawing your belly toward your spine. Instead of using your arms to pull yourself closer to your leg, deepen the pose by continually rooting your bottom leg and firming your abdomen. This is the most difficult stage in which to meld relaxation with alertness because it requires the greatest amount of muscular work. But even when you are at the peak of your effort, focus on breathing evenly, softening your forehead and releasing your jaw.
Early in your practice, you’re faced with what seems to be a contradiction—as you move into unfamiliar, awkward, and difficult postures, you’re asked to let go of tension in your body, mind, and breath. While you struggle to hold the pose your teacher gently reminds you to combine effort and surrender—to be both alert and relaxed at the same time, our stretch and restore program focuses on this exact balance. This is an essential teaching that comes straight from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (verse II.46, to be exact). The idea is that if you can balance these qualities simultaneously while you practice, you’ll create a state of internal equilibrium that you can call upon when faced with life’s everyday challenges.