A typical asana class winds down with forward bends and twists, because both types of poses are cooling. In other words, both categories of poses tend to support the down-regulation of the autonomic nervous system that helps ease the mind and body into the full relaxation of savasana. However, if you approach forward bending postures with the goal-oriented attitude of “gotta touch my toes no matter what”, you are unlikely to derive the benefits that forward bends were designed to bestow upon you. But if you can get away from your default “work hard, play harder” attitude while doing forward bends, you may find yourself finally understanding the power of surrender, the power of NOT doing.

Of course, full surrender in any pose other than a full relaxation pose is not desirable either, because it can collapse the chest to the point of inhibiting the breath and promoting depression, and it can concentrate the force of the pose in the weakest link of the chain that is your body, and thus can increase the risk of injury. (In forward bends, by the way, that weakest link is generally the lower back, which tends to bend too far. The upper back tends to bend too far, too. This is much less likely to cause injury, but is the cause of the chest collapse with its associated negative effects.) The realization that full surrender is not the solution once again takes us back to the universal theme that yoga is about creating a greater balance between opposites.

When you understand that something you are doing is extreme and unhelpful, the tendency is strong to embrace its opposite as the obvious solution to the problem. But the opposite is usually just as problematic, while the real solution generally lies in finding a place of balance between the opposites. The problem with the true solution of creating balance is that it is very difficult (and not at ALL ego-gratifying) to find a place of balance. Nothing extreme happens at the place of balance to tell you that you have arrived. There are no world records to be set at the place of balance, no championships won, no competitors (or former selves) bested. The only thing you may find there is better health, greater serenity, and greater joy.

In my experience, one of the pairs of opposites that most people have the hardest time finding balance between are effort and surrender, because our go get ’em culture so strongly reinforces and rewards extreme efforts, even in the world of yoga. This week we will use forward bends quite deliberately to learn how to balance effort with surrender to create a greater sense of balance in body and mind, learning to let go where we grip too tightly, but at the same time learning to create some effort in places where we never do; in short, making our practice smarter than our habits by moderating the patterns of effort and weakness in our bodies to create a greater sense of balance.