“Just because you are soft doesn't mean you are not a force. Honey and wildfire are both the colour gold.”
― Victoria Erickson, Edge of Wonder: Notes from the Wildness of Being
The sweat on my lower back formed a visible dark blue pool on my shirt as I stood anxiously outside a cement office building in Burkina Faso waiting to deliver a training. The group inside was a team of experienced local development workers, and the training was a three-day primer on using conflict sensitive analysis for project planning, which I had to deliver in French . As the moments ticked on, the pool on my lower back was getting near olympic-sized. I’d been thrown out into the field with minimal preparation and little to no confidence in my ability to explain a complex technical topic in a foreign language. But as I stood, and stewed, a colleague and friend came up behind me and threw a hand on my shoulder. Seeing my nervousness, he told me, “go and quickly explain today’s session to the Executive Assistant inside, afterwards, we’ll start the training.” I did, and by the time I was finished, I felt like that short practice had given me the words I needed. The rest of the trip was history.
I tell this story, because if my friend hadn’t been there, I would have likely run head-on into the training room and bumbled my way through the three days. Instead, I was able to dip a toe in first. To take a gentler approach. To use what we like to call a “soft” entry point.
This same approach applies to yoga. There are a lot of challenges in yoga that we look at and say, “I can’t do that”, or “that's not possible for me”. It can be a powerful experience to look at these challenges and ask, “where is a soft entry point that I can use?” For those of us with tight hamstrings, maybe this is as simple as elevating your seat with a blanket before attempting a deep forward fold. Or maybe it means finding multiple soft entry points such as building handstand strength against the wall, and then wrist/forearm stability in Crow pose, before attempting a freestanding handstand. Regardless of your level of practice, thinking about soft entry points can be a powerful yoga intention.
I’m certain you have examples of how soft entry points have helped you in your own life. These can be great tools to share with students.
“Strength should always be complemented by softness. If you resist too much, you will break. Thus, the strong person knows when to use strength and when to yield, and good fortune and disaster depend on whether you know how and when to yield.”
― Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living
How to present this theme in a yoga class
Using the idea of soft entry points as a yoga class theme, is all about encouraging students to look for small, simple, and strategic approaches to challenging problems. These can allow us to achieve things that may have otherwise felt impossible, both in life and yoga.
To present this theme to students during class, you may want to start with a story of your own, or one of the quotes presented in this article. Then ask them to reflect on which of their experiences would benefit from finding a soft entry point. To help you deliver this yoga theme, we’ve provided you with a sample script that you might use. Of course, be sure to adapt what you say into your own words so it feels natural!
"In life, there are a lot of things that are difficult to do, difficult to talk about and even difficult to think about. Perhaps you’re dreading having a difficult conversation with a friend, applying to a competitive job, or even recognizing and making amends for a mistake. It’s important that we approach these challenges, and overcome our fears and apprehensions. However, that doesn’t mean we need to run at them head on with our swords drawn. Instead, we can find “softer” entry points. We can send our friend a small gift or buy them a coffee, before broaching the really difficult topic. We can ask some questions over email or have an informational interview before jumping into the competitive application. We can journal about our own behaviors before discussing them with others. These are all “soft” entry points that allow us to begin indirectly approaching difficult situations.
You can also use this approach in your yoga practice to approach challenging postures and movements. For example, today we’ll be working on Flying Pigeon pose. If that seems intimidating, don’t worry! We’ll work deep into other related postures first so that by the time we find our Flying Pigeon, it will feel almost natural."
Yoga is a great place to bring up the topic of soft entry points because it requires a naturally slow and progressive mentality (the exact mentality we want to encourage students to take off the mat and into the rest of their lives). When we come into Wheel pose, for example, we first warm up the back and engage the core. We then find an easier progression such as Bridge to build bodily awareness and bring attention to technique. Then we move into Wheel, and suddenly, this extreme backbend isn’t so daunting.
It isn’t our blind determination and ability to endure pain that make us successful. Instead, it's our ability to maintain a measured approach, remain patient, and embrace softness that gives us the ultimate strength we need to succeed.
As mentioned in the example script, your introduction is a great time to introduce a challenging pose that you’ll be working on in class. After doing so, gauge students' reactions. Are they apprehensive, skeptical, excited? You can return to discussing these emotions at the end of class to see how your “soft entry points” helped students work through them.
Reminding students of the theme as you close
At the end of the practice, invite students to reflect on how they felt using these soft entry points to approach difficult poses. Note that their ability to overcome these challenges, proves that they’re able to overcome any other difficulties they may be experiencing. With this theme, you can empower your students to carry this mentality out of the studio with them.
If you’d like to reflect further, you can ask them to return to the challenging experience they thought of at the beginning of class. Are there any soft approaches that are now coming to mind?
Leave your students with the assurance that softness is not the opposite of bravery, persistence, or strength. Instead, it’s an important part of making bravery strategic, making persistence effective, and making strength compassionate. If you’d like you can also leave them with these wise words of Alain Bremond-Torrent.