Balance is not so much a point of absolute stillness as it is a dance, one that requires strength and flexibility in body and mind. On the mat and in the rest of life, balance means moving within your current capabilities and accepting the expansion that comes from there.
Natarajasana, or king dancer pose, is a celebration of this dance. At once a backbend and a balancing pose, natarajasana offers many ways to appreciate the journey of your body and mind. The best starting point for most people is using both hands on a strap with the foot lifted behind and away from the body. When you are comfortable there, you can let go of the strap and move into holding your foot with your hands. Eventually you can do the pose with the strap overhead. After that, you may be able to bring your foot and your hands together overhead. Let all of these progressions be part of the journey. Don’t rush or you’ll miss out on the experience.
If you are used to doing Yoga asana in a group setting, it’s a common pitfall to compare your progress with the people around you. But there is no end goal in Yoga asana. No matter how long you have practiced, there are always new steps and levels to reach. If you are focused on trying to get your hips as open as the next person or do sun salutations with the most flair, you’re not honoring your personal journey. Progression in asana is something that comes over time and with dedication. Rushing into the full expression of a pose runs counter to the teachings of Yoga.
Your Yoga asana practice doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. Some of the most powerful poses are the ones that challenge your body and mind in the simplest ways.
Utkatasana, or chair pose, is one of these. It may look easy, but the simplicity of this pose is its true power. This pose engages muscles from your feet through your arms, all the while allowing you to practice mastering your mind. As you hold still for 15 to 20 breaths, you calm the mind’s desire to move, the urge to walk away from the challenge, or the chatter that tells you that you should be doing a pose that is more flamboyant. Who knew that the process of sitting down could make you so strong?
The world exists in a balance of the subtle and physical; it’s up to us to notice all parts. It’s easy to be in awe of the powerful energy of the sun, but don’t forget how much the silver glow of the moon can teach you about the softer side of light.
Just like on the outside, it’s easy to focus on the heaviness of your body and forget about the lightness of the energy within it. Ardha chandrasana, or half moon, is a great pose to get in touch with all aspects of being. As you ground into the earth on your standing foot, notice how prana flows into parts of your body you may have been ignoring. If you struggle to extend your leg, notice the way your ujjayi breath makes it effortless. As you hold this pose, you are working with gravity, yet you can enjoy a lightness in your body and the full experience of living.
Movement is what defines Yoga asana, yet its purpose is to bring about stillness. When you move your body in the right ways, you can grow comfortable enough in it to sit for meditation. Making time for the stillness of meditation is how you will learn to master the impulses of your mind and meet the wonders of the world within.
Some poses are designed to cultivate that stillness directly. Siddhasana, or accomplished pose, is one. Add this pose to the beginning or end of your practice (and include the mudra and mantra we’ve outlined below) and you’ll discover Yoga’s true beauty – connecting with the divine within.
Beginnings, endings and times of transition can be challenging. When you are filled with uncertainty, you may question if it is possible to even make it to the other side. During these times, use your Yoga asana practice to connect to the grounding energy of the earth.
The power of the earth element is its strong foundation, one that allows you to walk confidently forward despite uncertainty. In a forward fold like prasarita padottanasana, or wide-legged forward fold, you bring in this grounding energy by fixing your feet and hands firmly on the earth. As you engage the muscles in the inside and outside of your legs and buttocks, you will feel the strength of the earth from your feet all the way up your spine. Surrender and let these breaths remind you that with commitment to yourself and your practice, the stability you need to follow your truth through times of transition is always available to you.
There are times in life when it seems easy to allow your heart to collapse. Perhaps you feel tired, overwhelmed, agitated or out of alignment with Self. But these difficult times are when the heart is meant to shine. Choosing love over fear will always result in the highest good for everyone. This is a lesson that garudasana, or eagle pose, can teach us.
When you study the world around you from an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s easier to use your Yoga practice to create balance and harmony in your life.
For instance, whenever there is movement, such as in the transition between seasons or the transformation of food to energy, vata dosha is involved. Vata, made up of the ethers and air elements, provides the space for movement and the push of wind to take something from here to there. In the body, it allows your digestive organs to guide food from the mouth to the colon, your blood to circulate the nutrients throughout your body and your legs to walk as a result of the energy from your food.
By Myra Lewin
Health is found in a place between extremes. It is a place of not too much, not too little. It looks like eating enough simple food, getting enough movement in your body, devoting enough time to spiritual development and spending enough time with positive community. What is “enough” depends entirely on your unique needs – there is no other guide than the one within to identify your limits.
Finding your place of balance is easier when you cultivate a regular meditation practice. Think of it as a training ground for your mind, a way to experience your stillness to allow your inner voice to speak. Follow your breath consciously and do nothing but be. With a regular practice, it soon becomes easier to make choices that lead to greater balance in all areas of your life.
One of the most revered ancient texts on Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, has 196 sutras, or small threads of wisdom, about the practice of Yoga. Did you know that only four of these talk about asana, or the physical postures that most people associate with Yoga?