Friday, May 10, 2013

Why I Love Yoga: Balance

Balance seems to be something lacking in our world. Especially in mine. Every day feels like a juggling act between working, cleaning the house, cooking, and trying to find quality time with my boys. It's constantly a thought process of, "Do I clean the house at 9 p.m. or do I go get some rest?" "Do I try to go set up at the farmer's market and earn a little extra cash, or do we spend the day in the canoe?"

It's a tough one. Life throws things at us as lightning speed, and so often, we just react without thinking.

In one of my very first sessions with my wonderful massage therapist, I was going through some pretty tough stuff. As she worked on me, she said, "I get the feeling that you're not feeling very balanced today." Well, damn, it was like she looked right into my head and saw the argument I was having with myself at that very moment over two very opposite ideas.

One of the most delightful and surprising discoveries to come from my yoga practice is how easily I can balance on one leg. No, really! I can do some crazy, crazy stuff (most of the time) while balancing on one, strong leg.

I can remember when I first started getting serious about yoga 10 years ago. I bought a video, Basic Yoga For Dummies. When the presenter got to Tree Pose, I wobbled a bit at first, but after a few tries, I found that I could stand almost perfectly still while grounding one leg down.

I didn't think anything about it at the time. It wasn't a big deal. Or maybe I didn't realize it was a big deal.

Then when I started going to these yoga classes with Robin, I was surprised to see how hard it was for the other students. I had just kind of assumed that balancing poses would be easy for everyone, since they were so easy for me.

As I progressed with the yoga practice, I began to understand that executing a balancing pose is the perfect combination of both strength and surrender. It's hard. Like, really hard.

As an example, to do Tree Pose, you begin by standing in a good, firm Mountain Pose. Tailbone tucked under slightly, feet hip distance apart, shoulders slightly back, and lifting up through your heart and the crown of your head.

Next, start with your left leg. Ground that leg down, feeling it go strong, maybe even engaging the muscles in your thigh to pull up just a bit on your kneecap.

Take your right foot. Put it against your left ankle, or shin, or even try to tuck it up into your upper thigh.

And then stand there. Keep that left leg strong, and just breathe.

You can put your hands to your heart center in Namaskaara, or you can raise them above your head, index fingers touching thumbs, and just breathe.

While you're standing on one leg, you can focus your attention, your drishti, one one fixed point in front of you. Really focus. Let everything else in the room just get fuzzy and melt away. Keep your mind still, as well.

Maybe I make it sound too easy, but for me, it is easy. The ironic thing is that I find it so hard to achieve balance in so many other parts of my life. But when I come to the mat? It's easy.

I love the balancing poses. Squatting down on one leg, King Dancer (where you actually lift one leg up behind your head while you balance on the other), and Eagle are all poses where I feel as though I can find a little peace. Just standing. Just breathing.

To find meaning in your yoga practice, you need to constantly be balancing between the physical and the spiritual. You can be as flexible as a rubber band, but if you're missing out on the compassion and teachings of yoga, then you aren't practicing in a balanced way. If all you're doing is sitting and meditating, you'll find that your body may become sore and stiff, and you won't get as much out of your meditation without using yoga to develop a strong body.

For me, yoga is a powerful reminder of how we need to seek balance in everything. While that may not be easy to accomplish, just like yoga, it's a work in progress that we can practice every day of our lives, with every breath.


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