One of the regulars in my Tuesday morning yoga class was asking for balance poses in the Friday class I covered last week — she finds them the biggest challenge. That’s true for a lot of us, whether we’re talking in yoga or in life.
I’ll cop to being the poster child at some points in my life for lack of balance. That was a big factor in a period of my life I refer to as the Six Months of Hell — I had been unbalanced in life coming into it and that made it impossible to keep my footing as I was faced with challenge after challenge.
Many of us — hopefully all of us — have something we’re passionate about. For every writer I know, it’s writing. Children, significant others, music, sports, food, work, yoga — whatever our passions, they pull us. Our time, our effort, our energy all are pulled by those passions.
The challenge is for that pull to be balanced by the rest of our lives. For several years, my work at the newspaper was my passion. I love journalism, I love the First Amendment and I feel strongly about making a difference through both. But without anything to counterbalance that, I got off kilter. Yoga ended up restoring that balance by getting me into teaching, which provided a counterweight in my life. Now that I’ve added writing back in, I have three major forces all pulling in different directions — quite a balance challenge indeed!
For the kinesthetic learners among us, try Tree Pose. As we lift one foot and place it on the leg, our center of balance shifts and we have to adjust to stay balanced. Our arms are lifted in a V. The foot on the leg means the leg is in close, so we don’t have to shift much. If we instead straighten the leg, it’s a bigger shift. We can then tip the arms to the opposite side, into Star pose. The shift in the arms balances the long leg and we again regain equilibrium.
One of my favorite balance sequences, for classes when I don’t have a lot of beginners, is a balance flow. We start in Tree, then peel that foot off and lengthen to the side in Star. Then, we rotate around into Airplane. Now the leg is directly behind us and our chest parallels the floor, lifted leg in the same plane. Arms are also in the plane, but out to the sides like a T. After a bit, the arms draw overhead into Warrior III, the fingertips pointed to the front wall as the lifted leg reaches toward the back, turning the entire body into a capital T. And then we step the lifted leg in and rise to Mountain Pose.
While none of the poses except Warrior III are particularly challenging, stringing them together into a flow raises the level of difficulty because as we move from pose to move, we’re adjusting our center of gravity and load through the foot to keep that balance. It’s the same challenge we face as we navigate life. The more passions in our lives, the more things we try and do, the more we must flow between the various elements and shift around to stay balanced and steady. Some days, we’re pretty wobbly, more of a Willow Tree, as one thing or another demands more time and attention. We have to balance that in the short term by pulling away from something to counterbalance — we only have so many hours and brain cells in a day. In the long term, we have to do the opposite. We need to shift time and attention into those areas that we’ve been neglected to restore our balance.
Practice helps, as does awareness. But ask any experienced yogi and you’ll hear the same thing — some days are Willow Tree days. On those days, we need to adjust and preserve our balance, even if it means pulling back from something — briefly.