Struggle-Free Living

For me, one of the most deeply resonant lessons from my yoga teacher Ana Forrest (that’s her amazing self in the photo) is her encouragement  to practice—and ultimately to live—without struggle. In her new book, Fierce Medicine, she explains:

“When we struggle, we become our most stupid self. We lose contact with our deep breath, we forget all of our resources, we move in a desperate, injuring way, and then we quit—none of which is helpful for progression. …  We’re so habituated to struggle that it seems we just have to live with it, but breathing into our pain instead of thrashing around it opens the door to healing.”

She goes on to tell the story of a student named Arthur:

“Arthur was a typical struggler. You could hear it in his breath, see it in his big muscles. He was a believer in no pain, no gain, and that whatever he was doing didn’t count unless it came at a great cost—physical or emotional. Whatever pose he was in, he’d be doing his Mr. Macho grunting. One day while fighting and grunting in bridge pose, he finally decided to release the struggle and just ride his breath into the pose. That breath’s freedom cascaded into a realization that brought him to tears: his whole life was about struggle. The moment he just stopped struggling and moved into breath, the whole paradigm fell apart. That single, visceral epiphany changed a toxic habit that had brought enormous pain into his life.”

In my experience, we get something from struggle, or else why do it? We get to say, “Look how hard I tried!” Or, we draw attention and energy to ourselves as we seek encouragement or assistance or sympathy from whomever is there to witness our thrashing about. Whether struggle is a “poor me” or “look at me” experience, it’s never attractive.

I had my own particularly memorable “Arthur” moment in 2003, when I attended my first-ever Forrest yoga class, taught by the gifted Steve Emmerman. I absolutely writhed my way through an abdominal exercise called Elbow to Knee. My face muscles contorted. My breath was ragged. I might have moaned or even mooed. I put on quite the show.

Finally, Steve came over to check on me. He all but had to, as I let the room know I was on the brink of personal extinction. “Is that helping you do the pose?” he asked, with a kindly smirk on his face and a delightfully wicked light in his eye. Without hesitation, I declared: “Yes!”

And so it was for the rest of that class: one of the most physically exhausting experiences I have ever endured—made so by my own doing.

Thankfully, something clicked on a deeper, cellular level about the power of the work I was struggling through. And now, years later, I find a certain bliss in moving smoothly and breathing deeply through the abdominal exercises that are the hallmark of Forrest Yoga. Instead of struggling through the burn in my belly, I ride the personal power trip of knowing not just that “I can” but that “I am.”

I am able to catch myself struggling through tough parenting moments. I can’t always make the fix in the moment, but I glimpse the lesson and a peek at my potential.

I am able—on my good days—to soften my shoulders and deepen my breath when I’m in physical discomfort.

And I am able, sometimes, to stay in the shallows when tension threatens to pull my husband and me into the depths of an argument.

With that deep teaching from Ana Forrest in my heart, “struggle free” is the practice I’m offering to the yoginis who are joining me for BodyMindBliss Yoga Bootcamp at 6am every day this week. As we make our way through leg-shaking lunges, arm-quivering handstands, brain-bending arm balances, and heart-opening backbends, we’ll call in grace and ease through our breath. And in that holding steady and breathing deep, we may just discover that we’re free—struggle-free—to delight in our own inner strength and good humor.

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  1. I *love* this post, Jenni! The lesson is applicable to so many aspects of our life, at least I can see it in many of mine right this very minute! Just the other day I was at Taoist Tai Chi Instructor Training and one of the exercises was to do a move with two others watching, then discuss what we felt in our bodies and what the observers saw. The two observing me were Continuing (more senior) Instructors and one said, “It looked good, Lisa, but you didn’t look at all relaxed.” And it dawned on me: I wasn’t. I was forcing *everything*. And little good comes from forcing anything. Sure wish I was in your neighborhood to take the Yoga Boot Camp, Jenni! Good luck with it…

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