Balance is a desirable quality in yoga. It is not only invaluable in performing postures, but it is also very much a part of what we hope to become through yoga.
If we lack physical balance we find the postures hard, our movements become clumsy and we tax muscles which should be relaxed.
When we lack mental balance we either fail completely to take appropriate action or we do things which are impulsive and unwise, saying the wrong words to the wrong people at the wrong time and then worrying about it.
In ancient China balance was seen as the fundamental principle of the universe, and Taoist thinkers divided all things up into Yin and Yang categories, which were opposites which had to be balanced against each other.
Only very seldom do we truly experience perfect balance in all respects, but this should not make us despair. The very fact that we are aware of, and able to witness the imbalance within ourselves, is progress.
To achieve balance in our Hatha yoga postures we must observe what is happening in our bodies. If our minds are not on what we are doing then we will not do it correctly. This inattention can lead to us damaging ourselves.
To begin with, we must focus our attention on our thoughts and gently remove all thoughts that have no bearing on what we are doing. There should be a clear picture in our mind’s eye of what our bodies are doing.
This technique is called centering and is essential to balance. When our minds are aware, centered and balanced our bodies take over and flow without strain into the posture we have chosen to do.
When we perform a series of postures we balance them against one another – movement in one direction is balanced against movement in the opposite direction. If you are performing a posture that bends the spine inwards then the next posture needs to counterbalance that by bending the spine in the opposite direction.
For balance in our everyday lives we must quietly observe all our actions, thoughts and daily contacts with all that lives and breathes and ask ourselves whether we are in balance.
We are constantly being bombarded with media hype to push and drive ourselves to achieve. For those of you who still aspire to the glitter and glitz of the ‘fast-lane’ creating a balanced life can seem to be dull, unexciting and lacking in spontaneity.
My teacher, Swami Venkatesananda used to say:
‘A balanced state of mind is not a negative one, passivity, a lethargic and take-it-easy temperament. It is something very positive.’
A posture which illustrates our theme of balance very well is The Eagle.
Standing erect, lift your left leg and twist it over your right leg and tuck your left big toe next to your right inside ankle while bending your right knee.
Cross your elbows in front of you with the left elbow on top and grasp your fingers together and rest your chin on the top of your fingers with your eyes gazing into the middle distance – do not look down.
Make sure your spine feels straight as you lean slightly forward and tighten the grip on your legs and arms.
Stay in this position for a few moments, holding your balance and breathing evenly through your nose.
Then release your arms and legs and stand erect on both feet once more. To balance your body, reverse the position of your legs and arms.
The Eagle strengthens your ankles, develops your calf muscles and helps reduce any surplus fat you may have about your thighs and at the same time it teaches you balance.