The theme for my yoga classes during the month of March is ‘The Quality of Balance’. Like last month’s theme–Befriending Backbends, I thought, gee, I wonder if we can make the sometimes pesky balancing yoga poses more enjoyable, more user friendly. Cultivating balance is a key factor in ease of walking, standing, most any movement. And then there’s lifestyle balance, emotional, mental balance, spiritual balance.
So, the balancing yoga poses seem to be a door opening to more than the actual doing of the physical poses. I thought it might be interesting to look at what our minds get up to when we try to balance on one leg or on our elbows or our head.
It’s generally true that we humans tend to be rather judgmental and hard on ourselves when we do things that are out of our comfort range. And not just yoga poses. Think of attempts you might have had at rollerblading or making a souffle for a dinner party or starting up a conversation with a new and attractive person. If you are anything like me, while you are doing these activities, you are concerned about the outcome; you are checking out how well things are going, or not. Or maybe later, you are still processing the experience.
Oftentimes, I see yoga students doing tree pose or big toe pose pose and clearly keeping a scorecard on themselves. I admit to being not much different. I find that I am disgruntled if I’m having a bad balance day, frowning and perhaps even grumbling to myself. Then, when I’m in the role of teacher and demonstrating a balancing pose, I’m thinking, ‘This has to be perfect, as well as inspiring.’
Kindness to self
Only now, late in my practice of yoga, have I come to adopt a kindlier attitude. I try to convey this in my teaching by emphasising that we are on a journey of discovery when we do any sort of poses. Paying attention and generating interest and curiosity are the most helpful tools in the doing of any poses.
When trying to balance, when we find we are wobbly, we might wonder where does that shakiness come from. For me, I have a left ankle that for some reason has become somewhat swollen in recent years, with reduced dorsiflexion. It definitely needs kind attention not criticism when doing one-legged balancing poses. When I can remember to apply a curious attitude to what’s going on in my ankle, it seems to displace any pushiness or unrealistic expectations I have.
And regarding breathing, calm and regular is always the starting place for balancing. It’s too big a sacrifice to hold one’s breath just to be able to hold a position. Much better to breathe normally and quietly, even if how long you hold the pose is of the order of microseconds rather than minutes.
In my daily practice I include loving kindness meditation. I start by directing the blessings of loving kindness towards myself: ‘May I be safe and protected and free from inner and outer harm.’ I’m acutely aware that ‘inner harm’ for me comes from the negativity and harshness of my thoughts.
The balancing poses are excellent devices for discovering what’s going on in our internal dialogue. Negative self-talk doesn’t even have to be rooted out. Just shining the light of loving attention on any negative self-talk can be enough.
Happy March and happy balancing!