Balance, space and compost

I’m a great fan of Danielle LaPorte‘s writing, and the moment when I fell in love with her work was when she said this about balance, arguing instead for passion:

Life balance. Low fat cheese. Walking shoes. Small talk.
Life balance. The term makes me feel bloated and late for my own party.
Life balance. Stressful.

Simple laboratory scales for balancing tubes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And this is, of course, what I think about when I teach “balance poses” in yoga. What’s the difference between “life balance” and “balancing”? Do I want to balance? How do I balance? and Why?

I think we persist in thinking and talking about balance as if it were a thing, but we want the ability to practice balancing, and this demands its own intense (yes, even passionate) focus. When we practice balancing in yoga poses, part of what it provides us is an intense, in the moment experience of riding a wave, uniting opposing forces and standing on a razor’s delicious edge. And it demands we have space around us, because if we’re truly engaged in a practice of balancing, we will fall.

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s the mistake we make in seeking “balance” in life. We are looking for a way not to fall. Not to get caught up, caught in or dragged under. We want association without engagement. In balancing, such as Tree pose, your entire body mind is dynamically adjusting, micromovements, microexpansions and contractions, different in every body, every moment, completely engaging and releasing your mind.

I recently realized that I had slipped into seeking “balance” because one of my projects has outlived my passion. I’ve never been one to have harsh demarcations between “work” and “personal” life. I write on vacations, I adore people with whom I work. My work  – from Philosophy graduate student to Paramedic to maid to consultant at various times – has always been the rocks in the tumbler of my soul. Work + meditation = growth. At least in my life.

When I started marking out times and places and feeling incredibly defensive about this project staying in those bounds I realized something was amiss. Was I hiding from total engagement? Or did this project simply not fit anymore?

I’m finding that as I deny this project (and the chorus of voices and fears and hopes and shenpa around it) claim on my attention, I’m realizing that I feel restricted by it because I was investing in it for a myriad of sad girl reasons (substitute family, need for recognition, approval, a broken notion of “service” and hopes that things weren’t they way they are).

The project itself is exciting and the work honorable, good work. But I’ve known for months I’m not the one who should be doing it – for my own good. My aims seem counter to the culture of the place. I actually accepted this project as a way of “changing the culture.” Why? How? The reason I stepped out of the culture to begin with was that it rings my bells in an old, broken tune and I want none of it. As a very wise woman, Kris Roush, recently said to me, (and I paraphrase) Isn’t it a kind of madness to wonder why you don’t smell like roses when you’re swimming in shit? You can put on all the rose water you want before you dive in, you still have dung up your nose when you surface.

When I find myself trying to balance gripping tightness with equal parts hot baths and yoga, just so I can return to the gripping, I know I’m seeking balance as  a thing in my life and not actively balancing all the opposing forces of rosewater and compost, meetings and solitude, building and tearing apart. I know that what I need, instead, is the space to fall and the surface to land on without wounding. I need to move toward and with passion, and away from sacrifice and misguided, ancient, stultifying notions of loyalty.

One of the phrases that came to me over the holiday while canvassing the year we’d had and dreaming the year we want to invest in was “You don’t need to save anyone. Not even yourself.” Balance is trying to save others while you drown. Space is loving and seeing that it’s all a play between drowning and swimming. Bullshit is what you make it. It can either be a nuisance and a pestilence  or the nutritive bed for plunging roots that suck up everything they need to produce wild beauty. The difference is time, darkness and ability to stand the heat.

Balance, Acceptance & Integrity

Balance comes from understanding the opposing forces in our lives, and how we can integrate them in an expression of our deepest truth and values. Whether those forces are internal or external, chosen or non-negotiable, understanding their natures and contours as well as our deepest core allows us to most efficiently act from integrity at any given time.

Rather than trying to make our roles, bodies or activity fit a pre-determined mold, balance requires us to recognize what we have, choose and examine our foundation, feel our deepest center, integrate our periphery and unify what might at first seem like opposing demands. When we try to balance without practice or without consciousness, it can make us feel scattered and a bit nuts.

Sometimes this is because we’re not acknowledging the way things happen to be, or because we lack support, vision or strength of our core. But when you practice a little bit each day, you lay a foundation of consciousness, strength, awareness and support from which you can act to transform your world through concrete action.

Balance

The four principles of balance are Vision, Grounding, Support & Centering. In yoga pose, we apply these principles intuitively.

From this  

yogi needs help!

Ommmmm!

To this….  

Balanced and free

Balanced and free in Vrkasana

Vision starts literally where your eyes fall – your drshti, focus, chosen part of the world to take into your senses. You must choose one that is steady, not too large or small and cultivate the ability to stay with it. You must know to reality of your chosen focus, or when it moves and reveals itself to be an ant you’ll be surprised and loose your balance! Paradoxically, perhaps, this means experimentation with an open heart and mind – without resistance or anticipation – and commitment to revising and refining your vision over time.

Grounding happens where the rubber meets the road, or the skin meets the mat. In standing poses this means connecting through all four corners of your feet and feeling your toes relaxed and alive. This is the root or basis of the pose, and integrity here translates into integrity throughout your body. Off the mat, this can mean being transparent and realistic about our motivation and investment. Where does the rubber hit the road? How does a given activity, relationship or necessity really function in the context of your entire life? Where are your “feet” for this endeavor?

Support comes from the expression of the pose through the entire body. In Warrior I, we often let the back leg become a little lax, after all we can’t see it and we’re so focused on the arms in the air and not falling over! Well not falling over is specifically influenced by how alive that back leg is! Even effort throughout all the limbs with the muscles gently huggging the bones and drawing into the core, even while we reach strongly out from the heart supports the overall expression of the pose, or any endeavor.

Centering happens when we muscularly, energetically, emotionally, mentally hew to midline. Just as we draw our muscles to midline at the end of a meditative outbreath, centering requires that we draw our core support muscles into the center of the body. Core strength starts in the inner thighs, is felt in the pelvic floor and translates into the 3 major abdominal muscle groups usually associated with core strength, and even requires the finer muscles supporting the spine, connecting the spine and torso, all of which support the smooth and effective function of the diaphragm in respiration.

Whether in yoga pose or traffic, find equanimity by bringin your awareness to your vision, ground, support & center. You’ll breathe more easily, think more clearly, focus more securely and choose with integrity you find it easy to follow through. Breathe, Balance, Be!

In order to form a more perfect union…

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common
defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to
ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the
United States of America.” ~preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

Today is Independence Day in the USA where I live. It’s quite the holiday, with fireworks and grand outdoor parties, National Public Radio reads the Constitution on Morning Edition on this day every year.

As a yogini, it was impossible for me not to hear the above words as a declaration of not only political intention, but also the individual clarity from which this could grow. “Yoga”, which translates as “union” is a way of cultivating integrity of the mind, body and heart, to grow in our coincidence with ourselves by bringing awareness to the ways in which we still cling to beliefs, habits, behaviors and ideas that don’t support and serve our true nature. Justice and balance, tranquility, safety, welfare and liberty grow directly from this alignment of clarity and support it in others in turn.

So consider doing yoga for liberty today. Wherever you are, and with collective or personal union in mind, when we cultivate integrity between intentions, actions and ideas we create a firm foundation for action and clearer expression.  For the 4th of July class I taught based on this idea go to yogaeveryday.org – Balance and Binding poses in a Mixed Level class.