Last week’s lunar cycle was half-moon, so attuned with nature, I felt confident enough to prepare my Yoga lessons around balance. We focused on standing balances.
Why do we need balance?
Last year the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a report on the results of a 12-year study conducted by an international group of experts from the UK, US, Australia, Finland and Brazil that examined the relationship between balance and longevity. If you click on the link, you can read the conclusion. For my part, it is an interesting study, despite the fact that the sample group was rather small.
Undoubtedly, physical balance may weaken with age and therefore, the continued ability to balance is necessary as one grows older. Having a good balance means not only maintaining independence for longer but also less chances of falling and suffering injuries or breaking joints, that may lead to developing other conditions.
A balanced and healthy diet, undoubtedly, is a must to nourish the body, to maintain healthy muscles and joints, to supply the body with nutrients to grow and repair, to keep a healthy immune system – and the list of reasons goes on.
On a more subtle level, emotional and mental balance is important to cope with stress, to deal with life events, the world around us, to manage our imperfections and those of others, with compassion and empathy.
Why is balance a challenge?
Physically, a balance can be a challenge in a Yoga practice. Is it down to lack of patience? In a hurry to get the result? Allowing yourself enough time? Is the expectation on achieving the perfect posture distracting from the task at hand? Or is the inner critic saying ‘you cannot do it!’ Is the prospect of failing the attempt getting in the way of giving yourself the best chance?
Our perception of the internal state of our body and mind (interoception) may not be in synch with the space and environment around us, relative to our body and the movement (proprioception). There is a disconnect between these two sensory worlds. So, let’s first take a look at 3 things to focus on.
Truly connecting physically with the sensory world of the feet is a must: and here, I mean grounding through the standing foot with intent, being attentive to the subtle changes, shifts in the foot that are needed to keep the rest of the body in balance. Maintaining softness in the knee of the standing leg allows subtle adjustments and movements. Going into the posture with neutral arms (either with the hands on the hips or hands in Anjali mudra) helps as the focus is on grounding on one foot and finding steadiness; lifting the arms - or one arm - is secondary and a bonus.
To bring awareness to the feet, I sometimes use a fascia massage ball to do exercises that stimulate the muscles, fascia and circulation in the feet.
Focus. We need focus, so often the cue in Yoga is to find a point at eye level to focus on and keep the gaze (the ‘drishti’). When the eyes keep moving, the brain is registering a lot of information and the mind gets distracted and disconnected. The Drishti encourages concentration, intent, inner-connection, a withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara).
There is no Yoga without the breath. It is always the most important element in the Yoga practice that distinguishes it from other activities. Simply put, once in balance (that is physically), we need to keep breathing. The breath needs to be smooth, slow and relaxed – we cannot hold the breath once we are in the posture. We can hold the posture, but not the breath.
Once these 3 things are understood and settled, there are other aspects to concentrate on (the position of the lifted foot, the arms, the hip flexors, etc) and little tweaks to make the balance stronger and more established.
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