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While finding myself falling into an old pattern, rushing frantically to teach yoga this evening, I realized that it was no big surprise that most of my yoginis had “balance” as a part of their yoga vision for 2012. Whether it was physical balance – one-legged poses, arm balances – or balance in other forms, I found an essence of this theme in practically everyone’s goals. And for a good reason: yoga IS balance.

Yoga literally means “to yoke” – to yoke two opposites together, to yoke together mind and body, to yoke together sky and earth. It is the practice, the discipline, that helps to join these together. I like to interpret it further and to apply it to modern day life – to me, it is the discipline that we can use to aid in balancing our spiritual life and our day-to-day life. It helps to create balance between effort and relaxation, between suppleness and strength. And most of all, it helps to reach more of a balance within our bodies – a balance of the elements, of health.

What is balance within? We all have constitutional types, and we contain different proportions of the elements within. We each have individual susceptibilities to individual imbalances. Some of us tend to over-accumulate fire (stress, overwork, migraines, heat symptoms), some, tamas (sluggishness, weight gain, lethargy). Some of us have too much air/wind  (anxiety, lack of grounding, constipation), some may have an overactive water element (oedema, lack of drive, emotional). Our constitution makes us individual, gives us some character, and determines our body types. However, we CAN reach our optimal health within these different tendencies and constitutions.

Although the simple act of yoga certainly does inspire balance, I would say that the FIRST effect we see from yoga is likely the AWARENESS that yoga brings us. Yoga gives us the space to observe our own bodies and minds, their relationships with the world around us, our actions and reactions, and, most of all, where we might be “out of balance”. Identifying our susceptibilities and patterns is the first step to knowing where and how to adjust when we’re feeling “off”. This is why yoga is fantastic: regardless of our individual makeup, our practice can be modified to rebalance our unique internal environments. A balanced yoga practice will work on the core requirements for balance: strength, flexibility, endurance, and calm. We will all experience a class differently – within our bodies and minds. Depending on your individual body composition and needs, you will feel a balanced yoga class where you need to feel it. (This being said, it is best to be in a class that is mindful of your individual constitutional makeup and is geared to ou as an individual – smaller class sizes, more attentive, with modifications, knowledgeable teacher. Many classes in our society are only right for one constitutional type… and often not the most needed.)

So, lets hear it for yoga and balance. Let’s toast to our individuality and to the development of awareness within. When you begin to learn more about yourself and understand the way your body works, it makes it that much easier to rebalance – within and without. We strengthen what needs to be strengthened, and relax what requires relaxation. The result: health in body, mind, and spirit.

Asana of the day: Dancer’s pose, or Natarajasana. What a beautiful pose! When you see someone in this full pose, it is impossible not to take in a deep breath of awe. And why? The balance of this pose is impeccable. Not only are we in a asymmetrical shape, standing on one leg, but you can literally feel the balance of energies here- reaching forward and back, stretching toward the sky while grounded below, strength and flexibility. The origin of this pose is exactly this: the god Nataraj dances the dance life – the delicate balance between creation, maintenance,  and destruction. Attaining this pose is all about working on that balance.

Begin always by standing in the most basic form of this pose: one hand on the hip, one hand holding the foot or ankle behind you. This may be your pose. The knee is slightly forward, hip flexors are relaxed. The bottom foot is grounded, toes spread out, connecting to something deeper below. Your head is tall, reaching toward the sky. You keep the hips square, and you breathe. You may reach the opposite hand up to the sky here.

If you want to go further, the foot begins pressing backwards into the hand. Feel the creativity begin to flow – this opens the heart and the front body. As you press the foot into the hand, you counterbalance this backwards movement by reaching forwards with the heart and the hand a little – move slow in order to tune into what is going on within the body. Monitor your stability, know your limits. When you have reached the point of balance, you pause and breathe. The chin is slightly lifted, eyes are soft and focused. Bottom leg is strong and stable, the energy is flowing in an arc from your outstretched arm through your back leg – reaching in all directions. Enjoy. Breathe. And come out as gracefully as you came in – balanced, calm, and strong.

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We  move up through Earth and Water, two downward flowing elements, to Fire… the element of empowerment, action, will, autonomy. This week, we challenge our definitions of power by shifting from the power we know in external forces, power OVER something, to our power within, that which transforms US and ignites our own lives with purpose. Power does not have to be associated with war, power plays, and money. Power is living authentically and consciously.

The Right to Act, to be an Individual

Our third chakra, manipura (lustrous gem) chakra, transforms the inertia of matter and movement into willed activity. Just as movement requires mass, action requires both of the above. We build past simple instinctual chakras to a chakra that helps build self-sufficiency, individuation, and autonomy. Now that we have seen what the world has to offer, and we feel safe and at home in it, we can start to change it by confronting uncertainty, taking on challenges, and transforming.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” ~Gandhi

Proactivity

Located at the solar plexus, manipura chakra is a source of energy. It is the spark that we need to make our own decisions and fulfill our own destiny. The expression of this energy within is action. Action requires desire from the second chakra and intention from the chakras above. These meet in the middle, where we find will in a healthy third chakra– the spark that will set everything alight. Excesses in this chakra create reactivity; deficiency creates inactivity. A balanced third chakra makes us proactive– and confident enough to be.

“Increased excitation is perceived as an urge to organize feeling into action.” ~ Stanley Keleman

Ego & Self-esteem

In spiritual and esoteric practices today, ego is a popular “thing” that we are told to transcend, to avoid. Although letting go of this ego is an important step in attaining universal consciousness, we cannot get there if we do not first have a healthy ego to support this transcendance. Ego helps to unite the unconscious self and the world around us, it helps us make decisions and orient our energies towards a goal. Excessive escape from this ego can be equally detrimental as excessive attachment to and limitation by our ego. Ego and self-esteem must be nourished, and it is through the third chakra that we do it. If we think of the first posture we take when we are feeling low in confidence, we see the collapsed mid-section, shoulders slouching forward, belly deflated, defeated. A healthy ego and self-esteem are important to empower us to make the right decisions, change things where needed, and integrate with the world around us.

Manipura Chakra Homework: Make a list of activities in your daily life, and reflect– which ones energize you? Which ones leave you drained? Consciously increase your time with the activities that leave you feel energized, motivated, and confident this week. Make this decision on your own, and make sure you are listening deeply to your body. Sometimes that which we first think of doing is not that which we need.

Wear yellow.

One of my favorite questions to ask in a naturopathic intake (for more about naturopathic medicine in Canada, see here) is: “Do you feel strong?” Yes, it seems very broad. And that is why I love it.

What is your definition of strength? Can you recognize it in yourself? Is strength purely a physical characteristic for you? Everyone tends to interpret this concept more heavily in one way more than the others– this interpretation itself gives a lot of information about you. Of course, it is contextual as well: if you are asked this in a gym, then it is pretty certain that you answer from a physical perspective. But what if you were asked in a yoga class?

This is the beauty of yoga: yes, we are building physical strength– anyone can tell that after a long 5 breaths in plank position, or after a struggle to get into bakasana (crow pose). However, we are also working internally… past the muscles, past the bones, right into you heart and mind. That is mental strength and will-power keeping you in Warrior 2 way past the burning thighs begin. And it is energetic strength you feel after class when your whole body is buzzing and you feel like new. and emotional strength? When we balance our body, our mind and heart follow. The clarity and evenness we practice in meditation and savasana are what set the foundation for a strong, even and non-reactive heart and mind.

So, do you feel strong? I am hoping that the answer is yes: that you feel strong mentally, emotionally, physically, energetically. Secondly, I hope that, like me, you recognize these strengths and cultivate them daily. I have a tendency, like many, to focus on aspects of myself to improve, things I’ve failed to do, and skills that I do not have. Although it is always beneficial to work on that in which we fall slightly behind, it is even more important to cherish that in which we excel. That is not to say boast it, but wear it proudly. We all have dharma, a path (or two, three, four), and we have been blessed with individual and unique skills, characteristics, and inherent knowledge to get us there. Use them, love them, and show them thanks… And the rest? Build them without judgement or expectation. You may find out that there are gifts hidden even in those things you have to work on a little more.

Just me…

2010 Journey

November 2017
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