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Sprezzatura

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

... or how to never let them see you sweat!


Isn't it lovely when you come along a word or expression you didn't know before?

Well, so did the word sprezzatura suddenly jump onto my lap, licking my fingers and looking up at me adoringly for a cuddle.

I'm neither Italian nor a fashionista (because in fashion the word is still used to this day)

therefore I didn't hear that expression before, but somehow

I immediately had to think of its influence on our practice,

so let me share it with you.


The word originates from Baldassare Castiglione's

1528 work, The Book of the Courtier

where the author

( that dandy dude on the right here )

states that it is among the chief qualities

that a courtier must possess.


It means a studied carelessness, a calculated nonchalance;

to possess sprezzatura means to make the

difficult appear effortlessness.


"It is an art which does not seem to be an art. One must avoid affectation and practice in all things a certain sprezzatura, disdain or carelessness, so as to conceal art, and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it ...

obvious effort is the antithesis of grace."


Castiglione's work about how to be cool was "trending" immensely in the 16th century ( talking about Influencers ). The people at the royal court where the "Kardashians" of their time and everybody else wanted to get to those positions in the upper ranks.

As today, that social climb entailed a great amount of deception and illusion.

This ideal Renaissance man, or l'uomo universale was a careful and deliberate creation,

really as close as can be to what Instagram is today.

You only show the most beautiful, make it look natural and never ever let them see the amount of effort, work & practice it actually takes... a complete facade.


When James Joyce first read The Courtier his brother told him he had become more polite but less sincere, Joyce contended that that was the point.


( TIP: Rewatch that marvellous movie "Dangerous Liaison" with Glenn Close and John Malkovich,

NOT the Sarah Michelle Gellar remake, please. She has one of the greatest movie monologues of all time explaining that world, saying how she became a 'virtuoso of deceit'. )


At this point of the blog you might start asking yourself what the hell 'deceit' has to do with your Yoga practice, and rightly so.

I want you to come back to the original quote of Castiglione:

"(to) make whatever is done...to appear without effort"


I find that idea is always echoed in the words of all the Yoga masters.

And it is both a way to practice as it is the result of a longtime practice.


For example "when you TRY to meditate, you are NOT meditating."


We don't 'try' in Yoga, we just do. And despite the work that goes into the physical & mental aspects of our practice, we approach it "cool as a cucumber".


Over the years of my own practice as having the pleasure of seeing a flood of students practicing, especially in those more strenuous classes, I can hear the huffing & puffing, the sighs & sounds,

the strained breath and more.

It's as if we want to let everyone in the room know "how hard we are working".

And then your mind get's fixed on THAT: the 'hard' work.

When you meditate and your mind get's stuck on how much your back hurts or how your ear itches, no meditation will be found.

When your mind in the asanas get's stuck on 'how hard it all is' it becomes difficult to stay with your breath or the execution of the movement.


This "make it look effortless" idea was trained into me through dance long before my yoga practice,

though in dance it is often for aesthetic reasons. To hear or see on a ballerinas face how heavy it is would take the audience out of the feeling of lightness.

Now, apart of the Instagram world, we don't practice for an audience.

More specifically, I remind my possum-army over & over

that we don't practice for the sake of aesthetics but for function;

but then again: there IS an element of beauty that we try to achieve.

It's a simple beauty. It's the beauty a child sees when it plucks a bouquet of weeds for its Mom, 'cause they do look pretty, completely unaware that they are not actual flowers.


I sometimes wonder if it also has something to do with the double-meaning of the word GRACE, which is frequently used in the yoga universe.

It refers not only to the favour, good will and benediction of a higher power

it also means elegance, poise and fluidity of movement. And as so very often in our practice, one definition influences the other.

When we manage to step out of the "work - aspect", through the 'Grace'- fullness of our movements, of how we work, we might very well find that spiritual 'Grace', that elevates our hearts & souls.


When we stop fighting & straining through it, we might actually realise that it all is just a dance,

a play, a flow... to be enjoyed.


And (as it is the point of ALL our yogic practice) we can mirror THAT practice eventually in our lives.

Less fighting and struggling, less fatigue and exhaustion;

just going forward step by step, task by task with a sense of presence, curiosity and possibly wonder but without labelling and judgement.


Finally, there is one last interpretation of sprezzatura, which I would like to put

in your back pocket before you leave here:


that when something is slightly off-centre or imperfect,

that very flaw or asymmetry is actually the exact thing that makes it all perfect.

As the great Alan Watts liked to say: "There is harmony in disharmony."


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