Effort is central to all yoga practice… and this is especially true for Hatha yoga and the development of Asanas. This effort can be regarded as a combination of motivation, enthusiasm, dedication and will. Without awareness, the effort in Asana can become hardened and misguided and I think it is the ability to control and apply the effort appropriately which leads to advancement.
In exploring asana, posture has external and internal elements. The external elements are: geometry, proportion, alignment, strength, flexibility and motion – the gross elements. The internal elements are: awareness, grace, continuity of form, respectful kindness, and focus – the subtle elements.
It is when these elements are combined harmoniously and with stability that Hatha yoga elevates to a skillful art rather than a functional activity.
When practice begins, efforts are focused on the external components. This is unavoidable, and manifests as a concentration on physical resistance. Work in this area needs to develop patiently. It can take a long time…it will depend on application and perseverance…
While this work continues, further progress can be achieved by directing effort to the internal components… the flowering of awareness…its aim is to work on the scattered nature of the mind and attention and bring about poise…
It is a feature of attention that when it is undisciplined it will drift and fade and will often align itself to elements of our conditioning that are not in our best interests. When we enter an asana, for example, we are distracted by the mind’s tendency to focus on the physical challenge, by all kinds of inadequacies and doubts as to whether or not we are doing the pose correctly, by the desire to adjust the body and fidget, by pride and competitiveness, by such thoughts as “When is this pose going to end?”. “I don’t like doing this”, etc
All of this chaotic activity takes away the subtle power from the centre of the asana. The internal control is lost and the effect becomes dissipated. To counter this: enter into the asana in a skillful way, fix the eyes on an object and do not shift the gaze for the duration of the asana. Alternatively, close you eyes.”
Keep your awareness on your body, don’t allow thoughts to intrude. When feelings arise, note them, then let them go. If discomfort arises, adjust your pose so that it is relieved of pain. Let your thoughts be kind ones, encouraging and supporting yourself. Let go of judgments and criticism. Allow the pose to occur, without pushing, striving or forcing. Breathe easily & deeply. This is effortless effort.
(Adapted from Advancement in Yoga, the direction of effort within the practice of asanas, by Derek Thorne)