prayatna = effort; shaithilya = letting go or ease


There is a yoga expression that seems very relevant when we consider how to overcome the overwhelm that so many of us feel trying to find balance in our lives.  That expression is prayatna shaithilya which translates as effort and ease.


In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras this expression refers to finding balance between effort and ease in yoga asana practice.  The sutra teaches us that asana is mastered only when it can be peformed with stability and comfort, it is the idea of learning how to exert  “effortless effort.” An excellent skill to master, not just for our yoga practice, but for life itself.


There is no denying that life requires effort on our part, sometimes great effort.   None of us are exempt. In addition to the mundane day to day challenges all of us face, sometimes life presents us with major hurdles like the death of a loved one, financial distress, or romantic breakups.  So with all of these challenges that can so easily overwhelm us, how do we find lasting happiness?  The key lies in how we choose to handle what life throws at us.


Our yoga asana practice allows us to explore this idea of prayatna/shaithilya in the physical body first. If we can master it on the mat, we have a better chance of mastering it in our lives.  When we put our bodies into challenging asana poses, we are taught to pay attention to our reaction to the discomfort.  Do we judge ourselves? Do we get angry at the teacher? Do we impatiently want to move on to the next pose as quickly as possible to avoid the discomfort? Do we just give up and stop trying altogether?   Or can we take a moment to recognize the discomfort and then choose to back off a little, just enough to find a modicum of ease, a little bit of space to breathe and settle into the pose? When we make THIS choice we can begin to find a bit of effortlessness in even the most difficult posture.  This is the practice of prayatna/shaithilya.


This same idea can be translated into our daily lifes. If we are constantly experiencing fatigue, doubt and fear then we will easily be overwhelmed.  But, when we surrender to the natural give and take of life, even just a little, we find some measure of adaptability and ease. When we soften into receptivity we can go with the flow of life knowing and accepting that nothing is permanent, nothing lasts forever, “this too will pass.”


When we learn to let go a little, then we are already on the road to overcoming overhwhelm.