There are many lessons to be learned on our mat that translate to our lives outside the studio. One of the first we can recognize is that of Balance. I sometimes tell my students that their hipswon’t know where the center is until they have explored the extreme reaches of their range of motion. Just as astronomers could not find the center of the Universe without finding its edges first. Well, so in the body, so in the mind.
On our mat, whether rooted in both feet or working on one foot, it doesn’t take long to realize that balance is only a moment in time. We may feel quite secure standing at the top of our mat, letting our weight shift into the soul of our left foot, slowly drawing the right foot away from the solid Earth. We make adjustments as our right foot rises higher, even greater shifts as we reach for the soul of that foot with our hands to bring it to its place on the inner thigh for Vrksasana (tree pose). There may come a point, an instant when our right foot presses into that thigh with precisely the same force as the thigh presses back into our foot, that we feel weightless, as if gravity had let us go…and then somehow we are heavy once again. Our foot pressed just one ounce too much, or our belly softened too much, or…who knows. The moment is gone and we are left to…what? In my estimation we are left to Balance.
All of the adjustments we made along the way to the final pose were within the act of Balance. We may find that sense of lightness, but it is fleeting. We accept that to stand on one foot (and for many of us two feet!) takes adjustment, readjustment and compensation. Concentration on our rhythmic breath and a focused gaze may aid us in the endeavor, but even that focus is in constant flux. Even in the moment of stillness, our heart is beating and our blood courses through our veins. We are in motion. There is no such thing as the stillness we perceive.
What if we look outside our asana practice to our lives in society. We are inundated with the idea that we must strive to find balance in our life or we will be doomed to a miserable existence of stress and overwork and mental breakdown. There is a picture painted for us of this happy place we should be longing to find, a place that if we shift our focus enough this way or that, if we work on our priorities and take more time for ourselves, we will somehow stumble upon the blissful-land-of-balance! Unfortunately, there’s hundreds of versions of “getting your priorities straight”, and the picture at the end of the struggle looks different to each of us. How disapointing to make it to the end of that road, only to find out it’s the land of devoted vegetarianism while all you want in life is a steak.
Here is where our Balance practice can help us in Life: Recognise that Balance is a verb. Accept that there is no stillness. Balance is a practice. It is not a place to find or a goal to achieve; it is a journey, an action, a series of compensations and counteractions. Sure we can stand at the top of our mat and not fall over, but if you pay close enough attention, you can feel your subtle movements, your smallest muscles playing in gravity. You can feel the pulse of life within you. It flows with your breath. Retain your breath and it beats with your heart.
Go out into your world and pay attention. The seeming chaos around you is simply a reflection of the constant motion within. As you do on your mat, fine tuning your movements, working smaller and smaller adjustments, so too in your Life. Your perceptions will become finer and your counteractions more subtle. You don’t have to strive to find that thing that is proclaimed to be balance, you must act genuinely and with discretion to come as close to your own personal center as you can. For some of us that means first finding our edges–I’m certain that is what those extreme teenaged years are for–and then accepting those experiences as a guide into our true nature. Your mat can be your teacher too. Listen to the experience of your body as it moves through your practice and you will hear the truths of your center as they are uncovered in your Life.