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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.

As we move up past our neck and further into our head chakras, the focus becomes less on grounding and more on liberation. The balance between both– our roots into the Self and the Earth and that which connects us to something greater, something above, and the universe– is the goal that we attempt to achieve through yoga practice.

As our focus shifts to liberation, we see that the upper body becomes more of the focus in these last weeks of our journey. We began class with some meditation: we warmed up our visualization muscles by packaging up all worries and thoughts and schedules in little bubbles, watching them float away to allow for a clear mind for our practice. As the sixth chakra governs our inner visions, we completed this visualization with bringing to view what we saw as a result of our class. We saw ourselves authentically, at peace, and open… and aspired to hold this image throughout class.

As we moved into sun salutations, we kept our eyes closed for a little while to reduce the amount of over-stimulation from our outside world and tune into the inner world of vision and insight. the sixth chakra challenges us to listen to our innate wisdom, our body cues, our intuition and our dreams to understand life. By filling our mind with the images we aspired to through the yoga practice, and by drawing inwards, we hoped to cultivate this trust and insight.

Closing our eyes during high lunge or Crescent Moon Pose (Anjaneyasana) brings some challenge to the pose, but also allows us to view inside what we feel in our bodies. We can view ourselves in the most beautiful posture ever, regardless of what we can physically see. If it feels beautiful and liberating, chances are the pose is perfect for you at the moment. Dropping our back knee to the earth only allows us to root even more securely and gain more freedom in the upper body (Anjaneyasana with knee down). Whether we progress into further opening by bending the back knee, or we stay where we are, it doesn’t matter. The spirit of the pose is always there, provided you are being true to yourself and that you are holding your vision.

The same visualization process applied for each standing pose we warmed up with. In Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle pose), we imagined the perfect line tracing from our fingertips down through the outer edge of our back foot. In Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), we evoke the spirit of that warrior/warrior-esse inside and bring to mind the strength and grace within. Finally, Trikonasana brings to our minds the strength of triangles and the stability that they bring to structures.

We went on to some balance after our initial warmup of standing poses. We embodied that Eagle within, the strong and free, in Garudasana. And then, after further heart opening in Wild Thing (Camatkarasana… yes there is a name! One poetic translation of this pose means “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart.”) we proceeded into Dancer’s pose, or Natarajasana (another nice article here), and embodied the Dancer within us. By bringing our attention away from the others in the class and facing outwards, we brought ourselves inwards and expressed the pose to our best ability. Again, whether we are holding the wall or a table for stability or whether our leg is perpendicular to the ground… our vision and the inner feeling of liberation and beauty that this pose brings is the important part.

Before savasana, we balanced our minds and bodies with alternate nostril breathing. Read about it here (this is a pdf that you can print out and use! It shows the hand mudra that was used in class this day.). We continued the theme of visualization through savasana, as we walked through a guided visualization. We stepped into a peaceful, relaxing, “favorite” place and out of our body for a while to see this peace, relaxation, and happiness embodied. We attended to the details of our surroundings to keep our minds full of beautiful images and cultivate detailed perception. And most importantly, as we came back to the room resolved to hold this image of peace and relaxation as we stepped back into the world. If we were all to visualize peace and happiness at all times, imagine what power that may bring.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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