We all lead very different lives, filled with different people, different experiences, challenges and opportunities. And yet we all strive to find happiness and joy, a sense of fulfilment, to live in a state of harmony and balance.
What exactly is balance? Balance will feel different for each of us, depending on what drives our passions, feeds our creativity, and makes us feel joyful and fulfilled. And our state of balance depends greatly on how we live our lives and how we deal with the situations that arise every day.
What does balance mean for you? In order to find balance, you may want to start by clearly identifying what balance would look like and feel like for you in your life. Journaling can help with this.
To me, balance means a comfortable mix of joy, quiet contentment and serenity, a feeling of flowing harmony, a satisfying sense that I am doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing in that particular moment. Things just feel right. Balance means feeling grounded enough that you can have wings to soar as high as you want to go.
Balance is fragile. It can be affected by what happens in our mind, our hearts and our bodies. It can also be affected by external situations such as work, family, relationships. Being out of balance is part of life - it can be messy and chaotic, and can change every day. Feeling out of balance is actually useful so that you can contrast that feeling to the feeling you have when you are back in balance - so that you know how good balance feels.
I spent a long time living out of balance, working in a high-pressure, high-stress corporate environment. Work filled my head, day and night, all-consuming, almost becoming an obsession rather than a passion. There was no room for anything else. This lack of balance lead to a lot of stress, frustration, exhaustion and health issues.
The good news is that we can always find our way back to balance. There are lots of ways to do it and scores of articles and books will offer useful advice, including: prioritize, practice self-care (healthy eating, exercise), declutter (your life and your home), set good boundaries, disconnect from devices, connect with loved ones…
For me, it was yoga that helped me to regain my balance, both physical and mental. And meditation continues to offer me a pathway to peace and harmony that helps me to stay in balance.
Practicing yoga can help you to practice finding your way to balance, even if it's an in and out dance, so that it can be a more constant state. Here are some ways to do that. I invite you to approach these ideas with a sense of play and a beginner's mind.
FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN EFFORT AND EASE IN EVERY POSE
Every yoga pose is your opportunity to practice balance, as you mindfully explore the difference and the fine balance between the EFFORT and EASE.
In most poses (other than those that are specifically about releasing all tension, such as child's pose or savasana) you need a certain amount of muscular tension to create stability, strength and proper alignment. This is the EFFORT, found by engaging the muscles needed to hold the foundation of the pose.
But we don't need to hold muscular tension in every part of the body while we practice. And so it becomes a delicate game to balance intelligent effort with EASE. As you are holding your pose, look for ease in the parts of your body where you don't need to create tension to hold the pose safely and comfortably. Ease can be found inside your body, with the easy flow of your breath, receiving and releasing. Ease can be found in a soft jaw, soft eyes, a smile while you practice. You may not need muscular effort in your arms to create a particular pose, so keep them soft while creating just a tiny bit of tension in the extended fingers.
This balance, moving between effort and ease, is at the very heart of the yoga practice, and it is a never-ending dance.
Really notice it as you practice each pose.
GET GROUNDED...SO THAT YOU CAN SOAR
Any time you feel like things are wobbling, that you need a booster shot of balance, try a simple Mindful Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Mountain Pose is a place to get grounded and centred. And you can do this micro practice anywhere, any time.
Bring your awareness to your feet, feel them heavy and solid, visualize roots extending from the soles of your feet and anchoring you strongly to the earth. Gently engage your knees and thigh muscles, your abdominal muscles. Feel the solid strength of your lower body, holding you upright.
Then bring awareness to the crown of your head, and imagine it is being pulled to the sky by a string, lifting you just a little taller, creating space between each vertebra. Breath into these open spaces in your torso. Feel your spine long and straight.
Imagine another strong is attached to each shoulder and is gently pulling outwards to the sides, creating a sense of openness across your chest, making it easier to breathe.
Take a moment to close your eyes and experience this lovely balance between the solid, weightiness of your lower body and the light, spaciousness and openness of your upper body. Notice the integrity of your posture. Tune into the sensations in your body, noticing the differences from side to side.
Feel grounded. Now you can soar to the heights of endless possibilities.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF WITH BALANCING POSES
There are many balancing poses in yoga, including Eagle Pose (Garudasana), Crow Pose (Bakasana) and Hurdler Pose (Eka Pada Koundinyasa ll - see the image above). Arm balances are particularly challenging, not for everyone, but they can be fun to practice and to work towards. For now, I invite you to try these two standing balancing poses that are still challenging, but much more accessible. To practice these poses, it’s a question of strength, balance and playful perseverance.
Tree Pose (Vriksasana) - Slowly shift your weight over to your left foot. Imagine strong roots reaching down into the earth from all four corners for your foot.
Bring your right foot up to tiptoes and externally rotate your right hip, opening your knee out to the right. Bring the sole of your right foot to press against the inside edge of your standing leg at a comfortable height (ankle, shin or upper thigh). Hug the muscles of your legs to the bones. Feel you are rooted to the earth.
Bring your hands to press together in a gesture of prayer at heart centre. Then reach them up to the sky, centered and calm in heart and breath. Stay for 5-10 breaths, then mindfully release back to Mountain Pose and observe any difference in sensations from right to left, before switching to Tree Pose on the opposite leg. Just notice how you feel balancing on one let, reaching confidently for the sky. And if you fall out of the pose, just try again!
Warrior III (Virabhadrasana lll) - There are various ways to move into Warrior lll pose, often coming in from Warrior 1 or a high lunge. I invite you to try this way, which really will push your balance boundaries.
Begin standing in Mountain Pose, with your feet hip width apart and firmly rooted into the mat. Reach your arms to the sky. Transfer your weight to your right foot. As you move into the pose, try to keep the left
Start to fold at the hip, so that your left leg moves back as your straight upper body moves towards the floor. Like a pendulum. Keep your core engaged, your standing leg strong, and your hips square. Fold so that your upper body and left leg are parallel to the floor, or as close to parallel as is comfortable. Prioritize stability and alignment, and don’t worry about how far you fold.
Don’t worry if your legs are straight. You may prefer to have your hands on hips or out to the sides. Just play, and balance, and wobble to your heart’s delight. Confidence is about finding what works for you, and also about exploring your limits. And fly! Be sure to repeat the pose on the opposite side.
MY PERSONAL TIPS FOR FINDING BALANCE
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