In yoga, we aspire to develop strength and flexibility. By gaining improved strength and flexibility, we hope to improve our overall quality of health and general mindset. There's also that frequently used word that encompasses so much more than it's simple sound and seven letters:
What a deceiving little word that is! We approach balance, thinking about the ability to not fall over when standing. We begin yoga by striving to hone our balance skills in poses such as Warrior I and II, Tree, Chair and the like.
The yoga body is broken down into two halves: the left side female, the right side male. In the most elemental of poses, we commonly find there is imbalance between the halves of the body. This asymmetry is normal to some degree. In cases where a pre-existing condition such as scoliosis comes into play, the asymmetry can be more pronounced and lead to disproportionate limbs and a skeletal frame that has grown uneven in order to compensate for the irregular curve of the spine. In every instance, a yoga practice affords the opportunity to gain awareness of the imbalance, and work to strengthen the weaker side of the body by encouraging better spinal alignment.
As we get more comfortable in our practice, the idea expands and we challenge our balance abilities by testing the strength of our limbs and the breadth of our knowledge with poses like Extended Leg Balance, Warrior III, Riding the Wind... how about Crane, anyone? You may continue to expand beyond the current Namaste Yoga series and try any one of a kaleidoscope of poses such as headstands, handstands or even a Scorpion or Firefly or more! Have you experienced the exhilaration felt when you attain a posture you couldn't previously?
In those moments when we hit the sweet spot of physical balance, it is human nature at it's finest to turn attention to the next challenge: BALANCE in the mind.
This one can be even more challenging! As we evolve as a society, it takes increasingly more and stronger stimuli to generate a response. We grow accustomed to mental extremes: are we Happy, or are we EXCSTATIC!!!! Sad? Or DEVASTATED? We're not just tense, we're STRESSED OUT!!!! How fast do we fall IN LOVE! --? Is it healthy to ride such a tidal wave of emotion so much of the time?
The yoga mat is a fantastic microcosm in which to train our brains to find balance along with our bodies. Imagine: you've risen to Crane balance and for a couple of seconds, you have it! In the blink of an eye, you realize your forehead is about to collide with the floor. What do you do? How do you react? How does this reaction apply to the hit you just took at the office, or from your friend? Are you balanced? It's just a fall, right? Did you forget to breathe for a minute there? You're striving to do more and be more aaaaaannnnd you landed on your nose. You may even bleed a little, or get a bruise, but you'll heal. You learned something, right? You move forward with the knowledge gained, without any need to become MORTIFIED or DEVASTATED or even think you've FAILED.
Let's revisit that sweet spot when you have that challenging pose and you are EXCSTATIC!!! Ooooooh, careful yogi!!! What's going to happen if you get too ecstatic? Indeed, you may forget to breathe and wind up on your nose again! To learn to observe the euphoria without completely giving in to it is to gain control and maintain that deceivingly simple little world of balance...
After Savasana, one of the closing mudras of Namaste Yoga is the Gesture of No Fear. The right palm facing out to the world, the left palm facing up. Giving and receiving equally, balancing the male and female sides of the body, with No Fear. Close your eyes, with hands in this mudra, and feel the balance of energy emanating from and absorbed by your yoga body. This is balance, "in accord with the universe." Feel it on the mat, seek it off the mat.