Softening Into. . .

and the people say "yeah!!" -- warrior ONE pose : dave ford yoga in the park, dolores park, san francisco (2013)

Anyone who has spent time with me has probably heard a little bit about the huge crush that I have on yoga.  I love yoga–it makes my body and mind feel better connected, and puts me in a very happy space with my body.  Getting certified to teach yoga, and finding ways to integrate yoga into my therapy practice are both on my bucket list.   “And what does yoga have to do with a therapy blog?” you may be asking.  Well, here’s the thing.  Since my practice focus is the spaces where our physical and mental health overlap, yoga is a fantastic metaphor for therapy.

The Warrior PoseThere is one specific concept that I have heard from several yoga instructors.  When I have been working on a difficult pose, instead of telling me to “push harder,” they have told me to “soften into the pose.”  This is an idea that doesn’t make any sense at first, especially after years of traditional cardio classes.  Until I connected with yoga, the idea of doing something deeper always included “pushing harder.”  But in yoga, you learn that softening, relaxing, letting your body guide you–that’s really the path to getting deeper. Even though our logical minds might resist, gently easing deeper into a pose is much more effective than trying to jam my way further in.

I often use this language with clients in session.  Because it works in your emotions too.  Think about times when you feel hurt, or angry, or frustrated or about people who you wish you were connected with.  Think about moments when you have been dealing with significant grief or even physical pain.  When your emotions are wound tight, you are more likely to try to force the result you want.  You are also more likely to run into roadblocks.

So the next time you find yourself ready to throw your hands in the air, whether it is in a relationship, with a work project, or on another personal goal, or the next time you feel completely overwhelmed by the painful things in life,  I’d invite you to try this brief exercise.

  1. Take 5-10 minutes to breathe.  Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Try to gently lengthen your exhale with each breath.
  2. After your breathing has deepened and slowed, ask yourself to name what you are feeling.  You can use a journal or a mental list.
  3. Once you have identified your feelings, ask yourself what you truly want from this situation.  Try to be specific about the desired outcome, naming actions instead of just feelings.
  4. Imagine the barriers between you and your desired outcome slowly melting.
  5. Gently, take a step (talk with someone, become active yourself) that moves you toward your desired outcome.  Remind yourself that you might be just as successful softening into this outcome as you would pushing toward it (maybe more!).

Experiment with “softening into” a few different situations and notice what happens.  If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your “softening in” stories in the comments.


Image Credit:
Warrior pose on cliff photo by tearsxintherain via Flickr under Creative Commons License
Yoga in the park photo by torbakhopper via Flicker under Creative Commons License



5 thoughts on “Softening Into. . .

  1. Ooh, I love how yoga makes me feel, too. It is a change to think soften nto and to honor the difference in our body in the moment. Taking the time for ourselves and honoring ourselves is so important!

  2. Dear Anne — I read this post when it came out and it resonated with me so deeply I have to tell you how grateful I am you wrote it when you did.

    “Softening into it” has become my daily (hourly!) mantra. It makes so much sense, seems like such a simple concept, but requires in fact profound levels of trust and surrender.

    I don’t know that I would have been able to apply it so consistently and to such great results at a different stage in my life. But that is of no consequence — what matters is that for the past while, I have been able to soften into the mountains of things I am working to accomplish, and accomplishing them painlessly (despite the once-again high levels of stress due to some difficult circumstances), rather than attacking them head on with bullish (and destructive) force of will.

    So, thank you again for your wisdom!



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