Prayatnashaithilya anantasamapattibhyam -PYS II:47
Relaxation of effort and contemplation of the Infinite (is the means to stability and ease).
In order to achieve the “state” of asana, Maharishi Patañjali advises relaxation of effort (prayatna). This means doing without doing. The key is to work internally and not externally. This is action in inaction.
In verse 18 of Chapter IV in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna talks about this concept of “seeing inaction in action and action in inaction”. This is an effortless effort. It is not the non-doing but is the doing which still appears as non-doing. It is not the negation of effort but the development of an inner ability to do what is required without manifestation of the effort itself. This sattwica quality is developed through sadhana.
Effort is tension (spanda). By letting go of effort we attain relaxation (nishpanda). After the initial stage of making the effort, one attains the yogic ideal of balance (samatwam) by letting go of effort.
The worldly person enjoys making mountains out of molehills. Yoga is the science of making molehills out of mountains! That is prayatna shaithilya. Whenever I think of Swamiji and Ammaji and what they have achieved seemingly without effort, I truly understand what this is about. Compare this example with the many people who make a big show of even lifting a pen or paper!
The skillful ones always seem to do everything without any show of effort, whereas the unskillful make only the show of effort and achieve nothing. Shakespeare put it well: “Much ado about nothing”.
Maharishi Patañjali also advises contemplation on the Infinite (ananta). This sane advice asks one to realize where they are and who they really are. When we put ourselves in front of that Infinite we obtain the answer. Any number next to infinity is zero, no matter how big it is. This is a practical method which develops the ability to see the bigger picture. Infinite perspective produces a steady (sthira) ease with ourselves (sukham). This is the very definition of asana.
The bigger picture reduces ego stubbornness which tries to be perfect in asana right away. Relax the effort and contemplate the Infinite. This is the key to attaining stability and ease within ourselves. Practitioners of asana make all sorts of faces and show off all their effort. They miss the point completely.
What is happening today in the name of asana is absolutely the opposite of asana. Instead of being advised to let go of effort, students are being bullied into more and more visible effort by the hotshot modern yoga coaches! Push, push and again push harder seems to be the constant refrain in yoga classes around the world. These yoga teachers learn a few medical terms and then start talking about contracting this muscle and stretching that muscle. Due to their limited vision of asana, not to mention yoga itself, they trap students in the physical nature of asana instead of helping them expand their consciousness to realms far above physical concerns. As a result, the vision of what asana itself should be shrunk! We seem to have forgotten that an asana is a tool meant to expand the vision and attain to the state of steadiness and ease.