Simple is Not Half-Assed

I've thought about simplicity a lot in my design career; what is the simplest form for an on/off switch? What is the simplest way to prevent false triggering? What is the simplest arrangement of symbols and lines on a sign to make sure everyone escapes? (Those last two are not things I've ever worked on, but someone has, and let's hope they did a good job.) Sometimes, you can arrive at a simple solution to a problem very quickly, but we've been taught that when we find a simple solution to something, we're getting off easy and something must be wrong. Not true. Here's the reason: we often confuse simple with half-assed, or easy. Easy is time and effort-based, and simple is result-based. But sometimes the result of simple is easy, and that's a good thing. But if it takes a so much work to achieve it, why does anything really need to be simple? The value is in the payoff. Confused?

Here's why I'm writing about this on the blog: There are always simple ways to achieve yoga postures, but half-assed ways are impossible. You can't hide in a posture; either you've achieved a variation of the posture or you haven't…part way there isn't the posture. And you need to get to some form of the posture in order to reap the mental and physical benefits. So how do simple and easy work into this?  Partly by rethinking how we understand those two concepts. Yoga postures can be broken into a few main categories like balance, twist, and bend. Many postures have overlapping categories, but they each still have a basis in only one. Here's an example of a posture that looks like a confusing, complex, intimidating mess.

    What the $%$& is he doing? Astavakrasana, of course. He could not do this in a half-assed way.

It's an advanced posture, but in this case it's advanced because the brain needs to wade through it, not so much the body; once in the posture, not much strength or flexibility is required. This is a BALANCE posture and I struggled with it, until one day my instructor said "why aren't you leaning forward more?" His tone was a mixture of empathy and incredulity that helped push the right button in my brain, so to speak. By looking at me sweat and contort, he pinpointed exactly what I needed to do in order to achieve the posture. Granted, once I was there, it was ROUGH and SHAKY and MOMENTARY, but I had touched a mental and physical sensation from long ago: learning to ride a bike.

    If you can ride a bike you can do yoga..not sure why she's sitting side-saddle; maybe if she sat like a non-Victorian and actually ON the seat she'd be a little calmer.

He pushed me then let go of the seat. After that, all I needed to do was refine the posture by playing with it, exploring, and of course, trying both sides. (Yeah, that's a whole other thing that doesn't link to prior knowledge of riding a bike, unless, I suppose, you also want to learn to ride backwards.)

Side note:  Ah, if only we spoke Sanskrit...because if we did, the incredibly descriptive names would help our brains and make things EASIER. Western names are no help; how does calling a posture 'peacock' tell us what to do? (no, peacock is not the above posture, bike or mat)

So, back to simple. This looks like a complex posture, with arms and legs supporting and twisting and extending in all directions. But it's not the appearance of the posture that we should be concerned with in order to achieve it; it's the simple idea that it's based in balance. There are many helpful ways into the posture, and those are basically ways to break down the problem into steps that happen to suit your particular body and brain, influenced by your own past experience. AND, like riding a bike, this will not be achieved immediately and easily. But if you ask yourself what's the easiest way to properly achieve something, you are using a reductive approach (simplifying the issue!) that always works, whether you're solving a work problem or working your way into a posture. Easier said than done, right? Yes. Sitting on a yoga mat, watching others in different stages of their practice do the same posture while listening to an instructor bark or sing out commands seems counter-productive to the process, but that just points at the need for open-mindedness and patience, and to the reality that none of us lives in a hermetically sealed bubble, on or off the mat. In fact, like it or not, we benefit from the chaos around us; we have access to a constant stream of ideas that we can steal, absorb, and shape into methods that suit us.