Life as we know it is a balancing act. In modern day life, most of us strive to achieve everything in balance; we aim to create enough time and energy for our work, friends, family, hobbies, social life, rest and play. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could provide an equal amount of our dedication to each of these aspects of life? Things aren’t always that easy, but there are steps we can take to help balance out the distribution of our devotion.
When we are imbalanced, we suffer both mentally and physically. Yoga aims to bring body, mind and spirit into balance and rectify any imbalances we may be experiencing. Yoga literally translated means “union” (of body, mind, spirit, breath) and it helps to bring harmony and balance to all our elements.
So, let’s talk about the breath. Yes, us yogis go on and on about breath like it’s a hidden treasure, but guess what? It kind of is. Regarding balance, the breath can help keep us in balance but it is also important for the breath to be in balance. Our emotions affect the strength of our inhale and exhale. Fear can stop the breathing, anxiety may quicken the breath, as with many aspects of our physical practice and our pranic practice (breathing), they can influence and affect our everyday lives through the form of our emotions. So having breath balance is having life balance.
During asana or posture work, we can sometimes notice ourselves being out of balance physically. If you find yourself unable to stop the incessant wobbling during tree pose, or maybe you’re a little unsteady on your feet in Warrior 1, don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Interestingly, when we are off-kilter emotionally, we often find physical balances difficult; this is because physical strength, stability and balance rely on our focus, concentration and lack of distractions. If you fall out of tree pose, take a moment to consider: were you really there, present in the moment, focusing on the pose, or is there something on your mind, are you feeling stressed or anxious about something that could be affecting your balance both physically and emotionally?
If we are feeling a lack of stability in strength or balance poses, we can use something called the bandhas. Bandha literally translates as "energy lock" and there are two primary ones which can help you. These tools help us to keep strength in our physical body, which will inevitably help our strength mentally and emotionally. The first bandha is named Mula Bandha and is located at the perineum or pelvic floor (don’t know where that is? Imagine you really have to go to the bathroom…..okay, now imagine there’s no bathroom for miles around. Now proceed to what you do next. No, stop! Don’t pee outdoors, just hold it in by clenching that muscle.) This will engage the mula bandha, and help keep strength in the lower body. The other bandha is named the uddiyana bandha and it is located at the navel, engaging this just means drawing your navel up and back towards the spine so that your abdomen strengthens. This will help to keep stability in your upper body. Using these bandhas can help you create a practice which is strong, stable and balanced, therefore emotionally you will start to see a stronger, more stable and more balanced persona! Try it!
We often hear the words “balanced diet” referring to something we should do, or something we should aspire to. What it should really be called is a "balancing diet." Thes food and drink we consume, both for survival and for pleasure all hold various uses and are utilised in different ways. They all contain various different nutrients and vitamins, and some are there just to satisfy a craving once in a while! But, the idea is not to make the diet balanced, but to create a diet that balances you. After all, that’s what we’re aiming for. We can use the same theory for our yoga practice; it should not be about balancing our practice, but about finding a practice that balances us. If you find backbends and heart-openers easy and they feel great in the morning but you struggle with forward folds and you really dislike them, what do you do….heart openers, right? Wrong! The reason why you struggle with the forward folds is because not enough of them are in your practice, showing an imbalance in both your physical and emotional pathways. Practising those poses and techniques which you struggle with can help you to balance out both within your yoga practice, and as a person.
We are always striving for balance and balance is all around us. We continually aim to balance ourselves between effort and rest, between night and day, between yes and no, between yin and yang. We are always going to lean more towards one side than the other, because life is like a massive pair of scales, and we aim for them to hold equal weights on either side. But this will only happen after a series of trials during which we test out what will work and what won’t. It’s also important to remember that everyone is different, and what balances you may not balance your friend. Some people need to have more alone time in their life, some need to have more quiet, more noise, more movement, more stillness, some people need to balance themselves with travel, others need to be static to remain grounded. There are so many facets of remaining balanced, but the goal is to find what you need, what keeps you happy and healthy.
So, within yoga, how do you know when you’ve done the right amount to keep you balanced? Well, after a yoga class, many people say they feel sleepy after a nice long savasana. Whilst this is okay, it is not the aim. After a yoga class, you shouldn’t feel overly tired, exhausted or super rejuvenated, you should feel a little of each. This feeling will be a dash of relaxation, a dollop of rejuvenation and a nice large helping of energy. By practising regularly, you can tell what works for you and how you can adjust your practice to create balance, both within yoga and in life.
Jessie Blackledge (Yoga Alliance credited) lives in Birmingham, UK. She currently runs her own business: Ahimsa Yoga. She regularly works with charities, bringing yoga to as many different demographics as possible. Jessie is trained in Traditional Ashtanga yoga as well as hatha yoga, pranayama, meditation and chanting.
Website: Ahimsa Yoga
Facebook: Yoga For Mind and Body