Balance takes focus, determination, discipline and clarity.
In yoga we talk a lot about balance! But what is balance and how do we achieve it?
In my last blog about ‘Yoga Nidra’ I talked about the 5 koshas:
Annamayakosha – Material body
Pranamayakosha – Breath
Manomayakosha – Mental
Vijnyanamayakosha – Awareness-Self control
Anandamayakosha – Bliss
To achieve the pathway of bliss we need to rebalance and address all these aspects of ourselves. This pathway often starts at the Material body or Annamayakosha because as beginners, starting our yoga path, this is the first thing we can achieve focus upon.
Anyone who is a beginner in yoga or has not practiced for a while, may find that often the hardest part of the practice is the balance; suddenly the tree is not as stable as it once was, some of the roots have lost their footing and it becomes wobbly, sometimes crashing down.
For the tree to withstand the wind, rain and heat of the turbulent world that brings stresses and strains it must tap in to energy and nutrients, rooting down, pulling down energy and drawing up energy, allowing heat and light energy to absorb into the cells. Everything is a fine balance that needs constant maintenance. Our bodies do a brilliant job of regulating this through homeostasis but it is only fair that we help these processes where we can and that we take some responsibility in this.
Finding the balance
The first step on the rung of the ladder, to a more balanced life, through yoga, comes from the ancient ‘yoga sutra’ text. Patanjali mentions the idea of ‘tapas’. Tapas is a way of staying healthy and balanced by getting rid of blocks in the energy channels of the body and releasing impurities through the lymphatic system. This is achieved simply through regular yoga practice of asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathing). Regular practice, ideally, means daily but just committing to a weekly practice can do so much to start to get to know yourself and what is or is not functioning in a balanced state. The reason balance takes determination, discipline and clarity is because it is hard to protect a yoga practice from all the other stuff in life and this can lead to it often ending up neglected rather than being prioritised.
If you can find the courage and discipline to protect it the physical repetition of repeating similar or identical poses not only gives familiarity and confidence in the pose, but then allows, slowly over time, and without judgement, the addition of the other koshas.
However, there is still extensive benefit to a physical and breathing practice. Twists help the digestive system in its peristalsis; the constant contraction and relaxation of the digestive system, by squeezing the large and small intestine helping food on its journey through the body and allowing the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Inversions (e.g. legs up the wall or headstand) help the lymphatic system by draining toxins from the feet and legs to expel through excretion and increasing blood to central organs and head. The ujjayi (yogic breath) helps to clear the lungs of mucus and increases lung capacity opening alveoli that have previously been dormant or underused.
When combined in a daily practice or regular practice this can lead to increased metabolism, more energy, better circulation and blood flow leading to healthy skin, as well as greater flexibility and strength - a win, win.
Once you have prioritised your yoga and are well practised at asana and pranayama you can start to focus on balancing the third and fourth koshas; manomayakosha and vijanamayakosha; you can start to study or investigate yourself. Who are you? What are you? What is your relationship with the world?
Balance is not just a physical discipline it is all encompassing or overarching into every part of you. Even if you are capable of bird of paradise asana (a balance with a bind), if you are distracted by thoughts or feel uncomfortable you may become unable to balance. It is important to tap into feelings and sensations acknowledging them and working on any blockages in energy, using the breath and physical movements of the practice. The connection between mind and body needs to be harmonious, positive and working together. This also links in to meditation and chanting positive mantras.
We can also notice the balance of energy, the effects of how much of little effort we put into our yoga practice and this in turn can help us with how much or little we put into other activities in our life. In the Western world you are often judged if you do not put in 100% effort into your work all the time, but this is an unrealistic expectation of any living creature. In yoga it can be interesting to try different effort levels and look at the effect. We aim to be kind and have awareness not to push too far. This can often lead to the same rewards in improvement and progress without burnout and exhaustion.
Hatha yoga is all about the balance of two different pathways of energy. The ‘Ha’ part is the sun’s warmth and light, an explosion of continually doing. In China this is represented by yang. Many of us in Western culture value this energy over and above its opposite - ‘Tha’ - the moon’s energy cold and dark. In China this is yin and it is important to embrace both energies equally and try and find balance between the two, which often means more of a slow held yin yoga practice, as we are often more yang.
It is clear that there is much that goes in to a ‘balanced’ yoga path and this can perhaps seem overwhelming or daunting. However, yoga comes without judgement and without time limits or expectations. Awareness is always the first step and by reading this blog, you have taken that first step to gaining more balance in your life.