Standing yoga balances–the art of standing on one foot–are known to increase concentration, to strengthen the legs, knees, ankles and feet, to calm the nervous system, and to increase mental focus. That’s what they’re known for but the reality, as I consistently witness in my classes, can often look like something else. Nothing seems to get the majority of my students more riled up than standing balance poses. This is where I most often witness anger, frustration, despair, and “giving up” as bodies teeter, with feet and legs working hard to keep an upright, balanced position. This is where my students are more likely drop out of practice after only a few short moments by leaving the body and entering the realm of speech. Instead of doing the pose and experiencing the challenge in the body, they will turn to me and exclaim in wonder at how hard it is, at how they simply can’t do it and don’t understand why; in short, they will run away. And this is where it all gets interesting.
We humans hate like hell to feel off-kilter. We don’t like to feel wobbly. We don’t like to feel out of control. We don’t like to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. So why, then, would we take a standing balance pose and purposely put ourselves in a position where we are constantly at risk of falling over? For precisely the reasons we resist: to feel wobbly; to feel out of control; to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. We take these stances and challenge our comfort zones in a contained way so we can learn more about ourselves, so we can understand our chronic responses to feelings we often label as “less than desirable”. In trying to stand on one foot in a yoga class, we may discover that we get right pissed off when we lose balance and fall over, and this leads to us wanting to give up. Or we may find out that when we feel vulnerable, we begin to talk…A LOT; we try to escape the feelings in the body by moving into distracting speech.
All of this acts as a signpost to how we behave out in the world. Life is an endless stream of events that work to throw us off balance. How many times have you had your day set with all the tasks perfectly spread out and timed, and then the curve ball came crashing in–your car has a flat tire, you get an emergency call about a family member, you wind up in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting nowhere fast? Disorienting, isn’t it? Can you come back to balance when things have thrown you for a loop? Can you maintain your composure and stay calm? Can you allow your mind and breath to settle before deciding on how to proceed? Can you take a few breaths? Maybe. Maybe not.
I always hear the voices of my teachers when offering standing balances to my students: Teacher One: ”It’s not about whether you will fall out of balance, it’s about what you do when you get there.” (Will you try again?) Teacher 2: ”Ah, not today.” (Some days it’s just not working. Some days you need simply to stand still…on both feet.)
Trying to find centre in the midst of the chaos that can erupt when thrown off kilter is an amazing way to break your heart open and to find compassion, both for yourself and for all the others out there who are working to do the same. So the next time you fall over (and you will), whether it be physically or otherwise (like when you lose your composure and your temper), instead of scolding yourself for failing somehow, offer yourself compassion for your humanity; say to yourself, “Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, I cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths. See how that one simple thing can change your life.
And when you’re out in the world and you witness someone else losing her balance in some fashion, feel your heart open up. If you can, offer assistance. If you can’t offer assistance, perhaps offer compassion in the same way you did for yourself: ”Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, she cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths for her. And if even that feels like a stretch, because sometimes people, in their loss of balance, can act in ways we just cannot understand or soften towards, just breathe and see how that one simple thing can change the world.
I’ll be seeing you, face-planted, on the mat and on the mat of life. Maybe, when we lock eyes, we can smile at one another; we won’t be alone.
Until then, much love and many blessings,