True Nature Travels Blog

What is the Difference Between Forcing and Working Hard?

You often hear yoga teachers tell students “Don’t push or force.”

Pushing and forcing definitely makes yoga a very bumpy ride, and is an invitation to injury. When you add force to yoga you are adding aggressiveness and creating unnecessary friction. 

With force and pushing, you lose sensitivity; you sacrifice your body for the sake of the pose, or for more range of motion.  When pushing and forcing predominate, it reveals that our good friends Sensitivity and Awareness have been abducted by the old habit of wanting more.  The irony is that when we go after more, we miss what we have.  We can only do yoga with what we have.  In the practice of yoga, the desire for more is usually just a distraction and is in the way.  A common Buddhist refrain is that “Desire distorts perception.”  All the religions remind us to be grateful and frequently caution us about greed.

What motivates the forcing and pushing is the greed for more, the desire to go further, the dissatisfaction with what we have.  Many people don’t slow down enough to notice what they have, but they are in a hurry to get more.  Spiritual practice is not about acquisition, but about letting go.

The struggle for more is quantitative, but yoga is qualitative.  We suffer when the practice is focused on going further and getting more.  In such a practice, the person is measuring progress in terms of the physical, in what is seen.  The ego is leading such a practice.

In yoga, our progress is in our maturity, our ability to create peace, harmony and balance, not in our ability to bend further or in the number of sun salutes that we can do.   The depth of our practice is more about awareness and consciousness and less about doing more or going further.  Yoga is more a mental practice than a physical one.  We are working with the body to train the mind.  If we are listening, the body gives us instant feedback about our efforts and our approach. 

When we practice with sensitivity and awareness the spirit is leading such a practice.

Pushing and forcing is more about trying to get somewhere we are not—it is goal oriented.   As you push and force you are fighting yourself.  But, there is no fighting in yoga.  Working hard is about being engaged and involved in the moment.   When we work hard we are not fighting ourselves, we are helping ourselves.

Working hard in yoga is 1) maintaining focus, 2) being consistent and disciplined over time, 3) challenging yourself in a healthy way, 4) connecting and integrating, 5) being willing to try new things & new angles of perception, 6) self scrutiny,  and 7) assimilating and remembering.

Yoga and working hard go together super well, just like relaxation and yoga go together super well.  We need both: work and relaxation.  It takes work to finish a puzzle, but pushing and forcing won’t help you put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Remember, yoga is an invitation to energy, NOT injury.  

“Anyone can practice.  Young man can practice.  Old man can practice.  Very old man can practice.  Man who is sick, he can practice.  Man who doesn’t have strength can practice.  Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice yoga.”K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009)


Our Friend Difficulty

How we interact with difficulty is a defining feature of our character.

In yoga, we can practice this interaction by introducing difficulty in small gradual amounts. We can practice handling difficulty with calm and poise and with a deep breath. You are in charge of your own effort. We can embrace difficulty as a close friend because there is really little satisfaction in doing what is immediately accessible. We value our accomplishments more when we had to work for them.

We encounter difficulty when we take on a new endeavor, when life hands us the unexpected, when plans go awry, and with aging and sickness. We encounter difficulty no matter which way we turn.

Michael Curtis

When taking on a new endeavor, how do you react to difficulty? Are you willing to take the time and go through the awkwardness of being a beginner? Are you patient with yourself and with development that is slower than expected? Do you complain about your progress more than you work on your progress?

With the right mental strategy we can choose to find difficulty fun and interesting, rather than frustrating.

Yoga can be very easy at times, in fact, sometimes we even stop trying and let go and surrender, but that peaceful relaxation helps us get back up ready to apply ourselves in a more consolidated way to the work in our lives. There is also an inherent difficulty built into even the easiest yoga practices. That is the challenge to concentrate, to be present, to examine oneself and to make healthy choices. Yoga is always inviting you to grow.

Remember, each step of the way is worthy of honor.

Embark on a rejuvenating journey with seasoned yogis Rhonda Kuster and Mike Curtis in the tranquil embrace of Costa Rica’s rainforest February 9-15, 2025. Delve into gentle, therapeutic yoga sessions infused with ancient wisdom, breathing techniques, and Ayurveda teachings. With over 30 years of practice and a commitment to sustainable movement, Rhonda and Mike offer personalized guidance, fostering a culture of health and well-being, not performance, in this immersive retreat.