I had a request to do a yoga theme on balance, so here it is! Let me first tell you that when someone is new to yoga or afraid to take that first class, their usual reasoning is "they aren't flexible enough" and/or "they aren't able to balance." I am telling you, these are some of the best reasons to start your yoga practice! When someone says they aren't flexible enough, don't you wonder about the word "enough"? I know there are yoga instructors out there who are way more flexible
than I am but that has never caused me to question my own flexibility. And let me share a 'secret' with you...when I get up in the morning, I can barely touch my toes if at all! Each day, it seems my body needs to relearn where it was the day before and that is okay. Your poses and your stretches are always going to be perfect for you (assuming correct alignment!!) if you are listening to your body's capabilities and considering them to be unique on any given day.
As for balance... I am going out on a limb (tree pose!) to guess that the first thing people think of when the words yoga and balance are used in the same sentence are the more challenging balance poses one sees in magazines. But I think those images need to swiped away. Balance is not just a
physical element to the poses. Balance has to do with your mind equally as much. AND, it has to do with your focus, both mentally and physically as to what the gaze is resting on.
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.46, it reads in Sanskrit: sthira sukham asanam. Sthira means steady, sukham means happiness and asanam refers to the poses. All poses have a balance to them and a point of grounding; which part or parts of your body is in contact with the Earth? While each pose has to have a sense of strength or steadiness manifesting somewhere, this sutra reminds us
that, despite the steadiness, we also need pleasure. So I often ask, what is the challenging aspect to the pose? And what is the easy part? Where do you feel heavy and where do you feel light?
If you only allow your mind to focus on the hard parts, are you practicing yoga with sukham?
One common interpretation o f this Sutra is that the poses (asana) should be steady and comfortable. When the legs grow weary in Trikonasana (triangle pose), for example, can you shift your focus to your top hand, which are energetically outstretched and light and free?
George Feuerstein stated, "A pure state of joy is felt in the cells and the mind. The body, mind and soul are one. This is the manifestation of dharana [concentration]and dhyana [meditation] in the practice of an asana."
As an instructor, one of my biggest concerns in balance poses is, not that someone will fall over physically, but that, mentally, they allow their ego mind to start in with self-judgment and frustration. I always remind students that those two terms aren't allowed in the studio! If you are wobbly, put your foot down, or grab the wall, or grab onto a yogi friend who looks pretty
stable!!! (I'm kidding on that last one!) If your arms can't sustain an arm balance, can we at least prep the pose and play around with what goes where and how! And here's a tip you may find
helpful. I think it feels natural to bear down towards the Earth in balance poses (because it is safer there!) when it is so much easier and inspiring to elevate and lift.
Look, balance is so much more than just the physical holding of a pose. Balance requires as much mental equanimity as physical. Imagine you are near the end of a very beautiful and peaceful practice. You are calm and one with your breath. You shift your weight into the left foot to lift the right foot up against your inner left leg coming into tree pose. You root down, lengthen the body with the breath and are able to feel the nuances of the pose as maybe your weight shifts slightly on the left foot or you try something new with your hands.
Now, imagine you are stressed out, angry at life, impatient, needing to get on to the next thing on your to-do list and you try to come into tree pose. How can there be happiness and steadiness when the mind is darting around like a bee trapped in a balloon?! When your mind is
agitated, the body replicates.
Balance also requires focus. I like that the last sentence has double meaning. Yes, you need mental
concentration (dharana) but you also need focus with the eyes. A very soft focus dedicated to a gazing spot called drishti. Where can you maintain your gaze while blurring out or softening your visual perception?
Even the dictionary mentions two of these fundamental aspects. "even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady" and "stability of one's mind or feelings."
Zig Ziglar wrote, "I believe that being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can't truly be considered successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles."
Symbolically, imagine the home life Ziglar refers to as your mind. Now, let's rewrite his quote as far as your yoga practice is concerned. 'I believe that being successful on the mat means having a balance of success stories in various poses. You can't truly be considered successful in your yoga
poses if your mind is in shambles.' Hmmm...
I can't believe I'm going to quote Donald Trump, but here goes:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."