Continuing the discussion on the triad of yogic practice: FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH, today’s post focuses upon BALANCE in our practice and in our lives.
Many students, particularly elders, join a yoga class because they wish to improve their BALANCE. This is not surprising because during every decade of living we lose considerable ability to BALANCE. Unbalance is due to several reasons, the most prominent being loss of muscle mass. It’s easy to see then, that building STRENGTH is a critical component of developing BALANCE.
Having said that though, there is considerable difference among students and for a variety of reasons, younger students sometimes have worse balance than elders.
Maybe we need to question the essential existence of BALANCE in the world and in our lives. What is BALANCE exactly?
Is balance an achievable state or a momentary state?
Is BALANCE a construct of the mind?
Is physical balance different from mental or spiritual balance?
Can one be achieved without the other?
Is BALANCE synonymous with enlightenment?
Is BALANCE possible without flexibility or strength?
Before we twirl ourselves into a heady, non-yogic state of mental machinations, let’s pause to remember the deeper dimensions of our yogic practice. Phillip Moffitt of the LIFE BALANCE INSTITUTE, writes in his article,”The Perfect Pose”:
In the type of meditation I teach, vipassana, the heart of the practice is being present with mindfulness and equanimity. In vipassana we use sitting on a cushion and walking meditation as our two primary forms of practice, but we also emphasize that the practice happens in each moment of your life, not just during the times of formal meditation. The same is true for hatha yoga; the time you spend on the sticky mat is your formal practice, where you learn to strengthen and stretch your body and to concentrate your mind. However, the deeper intention of yoga is to create a state of fluidity and flexibility in body and mind such that you can handle the inevitable physical and mental stresses and strains that arise in your life. If you practice with this intention, it doesn’t matter what your poses look like.
Having thus returned to our SELVES (if you’re not there yet, please breathe, rub your ears, feet, hands, feel and acknowledge the grounding points of your BODY), we recognize that BALANCE can definitely improve with daily hatha yoga practice. Nearly all of the standing poses (The warriors, triangle, standing forward bend, standing wide-angled forward bend, right angle, half-moon, the standing “revolutions”) as well as what we typically call the BALANCE poses (tree, dancer, standing big toe pose) provide development of our physical balancing skills.
Does our mental or emotional outlook affect how we “perform” the poses on any given day? There is some truth here, but how much? Yogic Lore, and my first adult teacher, repeatedly said that yes, indeed, if we are feeling agitated, our tree pose will be wobbly, we’ll sway in triangle, etc.
My experience,however has been otherwise. Sometimes it’s the pose that brings me into balance on monkey-mind days! Sometimes, placing my body in a very precarious position, pushes my mind – and heart – to settle down and focus so my body can remain upright.
I’d always felt that BALANCE was one of my weaker skills, but I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve gained flexibility, coordination, and strength, especially in the hip and thighs, that my BALANCE has shown remarkable improvement.
Concurrently, as I’ve strengthened the connection with my core, my inner being, the balance I feel in my life -off the mat – has undergone remarkable transformation. For many years, I felt as if I was not leading “my” life. Now I know, and it’s with a deep, often unconscious, knowing that I am the compassionate creator of my own life.
Balance resides in the being. What happens outside is another question.
Meditation & Asana Practice: To take your balance further, practice the above-mentioned poses, and observe how your emotional and mental states effect the physical pose. Do you enjoy greater balance in the morning or in the evening, on still versus windy days, in summer or in winter, in a class or when alone. How much do energies outside of your SELF affect you?
YOGA JOURNAL activity: five-minute free write on balance in your life, recording some of your observations from practice. Feel free to share some of your reflections with other yogi-nis in the comment section on this page.