Balance is beautiful. – Miyoko Ohno, Japanese bridge designer
I thought a lot about balance today in yoga.
One of my favorite teachers was back at the helm, after a month-long silent retreat. (Now, how’s that for some balance??)
We did a plethora of standing balance poses – Mountain, Warrior One, Warrior Two, Warrior Three, Dancing Warrior, Tree, and the Heron.
Balance poses are tricky; they require some good amount of strength and effort to execute, yet cannot be held for very long without learning how to really relax into the effort. A bunch of clenched muscles will not last long in balance poses. To me that is a real paradox; How do you give big effort, yet be supremely relaxed? It’s a squishy combination of strength, focus, awareness and relaxation.
If you let your mind wander, or take your eyes off your ‘drishti’ to check out how the other folks are doing, you will probably fall. Your ‘drishti’ is the point where you focus your eyes. Pick a point and focus on it, but your eyes must be soft. If you focus too HARD on your drishti, you end up with something like this running through your head: “WHY is that crack in the wall shaped like that, it reminds me of so-and-so, and I HATE so-and-so….” – then the monkey mind is OFF to the races, and your balance is lost.
‘Drishti’ literally means “pure seeing.” Pure seeing, just witnessing, without any analyzing or association. Try that and see how hard it is. It’s a focused gaze, but one that must be non-judgmental, non-analyzing. Dare I say it? – – it is a love-gaze. A pure see-it, acknowledge-it, and then accept-it, love-it gaze. DO NOT analyze or judge it. Take in what you see in a soft way, while simultaneously keeping awareness of blessed breath, of muscles gently pulsing, of your feet grounding you to the mat, of the air surrounding and holding you.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “balance” as: an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall.
I am going to disagree with the OED here (gasp!): Nothing can remain upright or steady forever. At some point, whatever ‘it’ is – it will probably NOT remain upright forever; at some point it will fall. Whether it’s a 500-year old bridge, or your body in the Tree pose, it will eventually lose its balance and fall.
In yoga, as in life, here’s the thing: You will fall. Sooner or later, you will get out of balance and you will fall. And, sooner or later, even the instructor will fall (or decide to end the pose for the class before they fall..).
There is NO perfection. There is no permanence. There is only progress.
There is only progress, coupled with a good dose of humility and a lot of perseverance.
Another, more artistic, definition of balance is: “A condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions; harmony of design and proportion.”
When people talk about finding balance in life, they are usually talking about this kind of balance – a balance of proportions. Finding a balance in work and in play, in relationships, in diet and exercise, in activity vs. rest. It’s an elusive search for many of us.
On Saturday night, we had dinner with our oldest friends. We have known each other since we were young newlyweds. Together, we have witnessed and participated in each other’s highest and lowest moments; the joys and sorrows of raising children, career successes and job layoffs, business failures, the death of parents, marriage challenges, depression, anger, misery, joy. We are blessed with the knowledge, love and acceptance that only 30 years together can bring. We can pretty much say anything to each other – and can call bullshit when warranted as well.
Our dinner conversation on Saturday was about how we had all changed individually, and as couples, over the last 5-10 years. It was a round-robin discussion, with each person taking a turn, and the others providing their personal observations.
Some had remained relatively constant to their true nature over the years, while others had experienced a significant personal metamorphosis. A personal metamorphosis almost always means a marital metamorphosis as well.
When it came to be my turn, my dear friend, the woman who knows me better than most others, said something like this: “You are a woman of many talents; but you have let some of those talents (e.g., business, mothering, ‘managing’ everyone and everything in your life) get out of proportion to your other gifts. You have let yourself get out of balance. What I see happening now, is that you are in the process of rebalancing, bringing back into focus some of those other talents that have lain dormant for many years.”
God bless her. This is why she is my dearest friend.
Bringing oneself back into balance is a hard process. Particularly if one has been out of balance for quite a while.
Coming back into balance- in life, just like in yoga, means taking some big risks.
Lifting a leg, or the arms, into the flying heron position.
Putting forth a new offer into the world, and wobbling and falling in the trying.
Resetting your focus, again and again.
Looking at the world with a new, non-judgmental, love-gaze.
Not seeking perfection. Having the humility and perseverance to keep making progress.
Our wise instructor in today’s yoga class provided one last piece of advice while trying out a new balance pose – Turn up the corners of your mouth into a smile and enjoy the experience.