We're told to seek balance a lot, whether it be in our diets, our exercise, our job, or our pleasure, but what is balance? And what is balance in yogic terms, is it simply being able to hold long balancing asanas? Or is there more to this balance in life thing?
It appears that in yoga, we're just as guilty of talking about this vague concept of living a balanced life without always defining what that balance looks like.
Balance can be considered in two areas of thought, the physical and the non-physical. As with most things in yoga, there is a duality and crossover of both aspects. Our physical balance is affected by our non-physical and visa-versa.
It should come as no surprise that diet and exercise are fundamental to our physical health. In the yogic lifestyle, Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga guide us to lead healthy, happy and fulfilling lives. It does so by touching on the energy we use to fuel our bodies.
Patanjali's writings on yoga as a way of life is in essence trying to help us cultivate this notorious balance between the physical and non-physical in our bodies and the world.
Being of the physical realm, our understand and perception of physical balance is often a lot more apparent than our non-physical. That being said though, there are plenty of people in this world who live unfazed in their unbalanced physical body. They just might not live very long...
In the physical realm, there are yoga postures which challenge our balance, our ability to hold that pose propped up by only one limb.
When practicing these postures, there a couple of techniques that help us recenter and find balance within ourselves.
1. Focus on your breath, the breath is the bridge between the mind and the body, no matter which asana you're trying to conquer. Instead of letting your mind scatter thoughts at a hundred miles an hour, or worse, trying to reign in those thoughts, bring your attention to your breath. Your mind and its meandering thoughts will follow.
2. Use a Drishti (drish-tee), a Drishti is a focusing technique for asana and meditation. It is simply the notion of taking a steady point of focus, in front of your eye-line and locking on it. The unwavering point will help you to replicate the same sense of stability from within.
3. Take root, grounding yourself, it's probably a saying you've heard in class before, but honestly sometimes its a bit of an out-of-reach concept. When teachers talk about taking root, or grounding yourself, they're trying to help you feel your connection to the ground. Find the balance and stability of the ground you're standing on and let it travel into your body to support you from within. Sometimes you'll be grounding a foot as you balance on one leg, other times you'll be supporting yourself on your hands or head. But the principle still applies.
The concept of 'non-physical' refers to our mental health and general wellbeing beyond physical symptoms. The balance of our mental health and wellbeing lies in the quality of its parts. It's complex and there are legitimately entire books dedicated to the concept. So...we're not going to go too far in depth here, instead, we're keeping it simple.
For a longer read, we recommend checking out the article; Striking a Balance between Effort and Ease in Yoga & Life by Phillip Moffitt.
The most prominent simplification used to explain the art of finding balance in our mental health and wellbeing, is that to be happy and healthy you need to cultivate self-awareness and self-compassion. It's hidden in the depths of your true self that you will find your balance.
Our quest for balance from within requires us to look within, assess our motives, shift into neutral and find contentment. Relax, follow the Yama & Niyama's, and practice asana. But above everything else, we must learn to look at ourselves truly and treat ourselves with the utmost compassion.
Yoga is the greatest form of self-care. Are you taking the best care of yourself?
Fundamentally, we need to learn to stare ourselves down and realise, this vessel we're in, our body, its our entire life. If we abuse it we'll live illness-ridden lives and die younger. If we nourish our whole selves, we'll live in wellness - body and mind - for many years to come. Your outcome is in your hands.
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