“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” ~Thomas Merton
The yoga class I attended yesterday included a number of balance posts, from simple tree pose to a “floating” ardha chandrasana. I am not certain why, but I was struggling to find a steady balance on one side.
I arrived late feeling flustered, and my mind was spinning and worrying as we worked our way into the flow. I had to struggle to make my gaze steady, and I was starting to beat myself up for the wobbling on my left leg.
Then I had a realization: This is really the whole point of balancing poses, if not yoga itself. The point is simply to be with yourself, no matter where you are at that moment. Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.”
Later, I thought a lot about balance and how we are always trying to find it in our lives. I talk with patients about it almost every day, and no one seems to feel they have it under control.
It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of daily life and forget to find time for relaxation, or even self-care. We get stuck in our heads planning the future or dissecting the past rather than meeting this moment.
I know when I don’t take time to balance the doing with the being, the stuff for everyone else with the stuff just for me, I get flustered and tense. I feel off-center and it’s hard to catch my breath. Life easily gets unsteady, the way I felt at the beginning of class.
Here is my list of ways to find your balance. While it certainly applies to yoga, I see ways to apply these off the mat, too.
1. Take a risk.
Balancing requires a leap of faith. We must trust in one leg to hold us as the other takes flight. We test the limits so we know what we are capable of achieving.
I know it’s difficult to face change and to take on something new in life. But it’s that mindset that keeps us stuck in the status quo, where most of us lean toward giving to others, rather than nurturing our own needs.
It took over a month for me to get up the courage to attend my first yoga class. I thought I was too old and weak, that I wouldn’t know what was going on and would look foolish. Instead, I found a room full of people my age having fun and welcoming new students.
If I hadn’t taken the risk, I would have missed out on the physical and emotional benefits I’ve gained from regular classes.
2. Find a focus.
Keep your eyes on a steady object. This allows concentration of the mind and minimizes distractions that throw us off our goals.
In real life, for example, make self-care a priority and don’t waiver. The other distractions and commitments will always be there, and we will be more effective at handling them if we start from a place of mindful balance.
I know I feel better if I practice at least fifteen minutes of yoga a day. Some days that is all I can manage, but if I don’t make it a priority, I get sucked into chores and emails and things that could wait until I’m done on my mat. My focus has to be in place or I lose sight of what is important.
3. Loosen up.
Balancing on one leg requires strength, but we also need to relax and keep breathing. If every muscle is clenched, we’re actually more likely to fall over. The micro movements and tiny adjustments are part of the pose, and we can’t flow with the breeze unless we let go of a little bit of control.
Staying in the present means accepting whatever comes up, without getting angry at the body for wobbling or the mind for judging. We can only control our reactions. If we let go of the need for one certain outcome, we can accept whatever comes our way on or off the mat.
I have worked very hard to let go when I’m driving, for example. If I get stuck behind a slow car, I can check my speedometer a hundred times and get upset that I’m not moving faster, or I can drive as fast as I’m able and listen to a great Michael Franti song with the windows open. I can’t control the traffic in either situation, but I’m much happier if I practice letting go.
4. Embrace the falling.
Give yourself a break! Balancing is hard and we will fall. A lot. Some days, it seems impossible to find the stillness. Instead of the inner name-calling, try smiling and recognizing that the effort is as important as the result.
Over time we will see progress, but we can only start from where we are in this moment. Some days we will fall more than others and we will be tempted to feel angry that last week we held a perfect pose, or reacted more calmly to the kids “listening issues.” Instead, we can fall with style and accept where we are today.
5. If you fall, get back up again!
This one is the most important. Persevere. Don’t call it a failed attempt and give up; the next try may lead to success. Or maybe it won’t, but if not today, maybe next week; maybe it takes a lifetime! That life comes moment to moment, so we must be here now, giving our full attention.
Balancing poses require extra effort. But when everything comes together, these poses keep us mindful. A life of balance means living in the present and meeting ourselves where we are at this moment.
The courage, focus, acceptance, and perseverance are all worthwhile when we discover the peace that is present here now. Balancing on the mat helps us focus our intentions off the mat, which, I’ve heard said, is where the real yoga is practiced.
Photo by James Jordan
About Janeen Paul
Janeen Paul is a psychiatrist and recent yoga teacher training graduate. She writes about yoga, mental health, wellness and spiritual seeking at No Happy Pill.