This afternoon I had a pretty amazing tech session on Yoga Nidra; it was completely new and novel, strange and wild, profoundly unique. And all of that can be very, very good (indeed, it really was), but it can also be a lot to take in, a lot to process. So while I was very pleased to have been able to experience yoga nidra, I also found some comfort in spending this evening focused on a topic that felt a bit more familiar, more conventional, more “known”. This evening’s tech session was about balance; specifically, about physical balance in a variety of yoga asanas (poses).
Tonight’s teacher began by explaining the various ways a person’s balance might be hindered. Most of them I already knew (issues with the inner ear, issues with the visual system as a whole, issues with the sensory system [things like muscle weakness, high/low blood pressure], even the affect lack of sleep can have), but a few potential causes of physical imbalance surprised me a bit (like the real impact diet and hydration can have on balance; and the true physiological impact of stress on the body; and the importance of the internal drishti as well as the external gaze….). They all make sense, but I guess I just never really thought about them too deeply, or for too long. Now when it feels like it’s extra-difficult for me to get and/or maintain my balance in a yoga class, I’ll have some more insight as to why. :)
But even if a person has really crummy balance, there are still things that can be done to help them 1) achieve better balance immediately, and 2) learn how to develop more balance in their own bodies over the longer-term. Immediate solutions for poor balance are pretty easy to come by: use props (like a block, a chair, a wall), and use the correct drishti (gaze) for a pose. Other measures require a little more attention and practice (things like engage the bandhas, use the mind properly [so, increase the awareness of where one’s body *really* is in space, and engage in positive, helpful self-talk]), but these ‘interventions’ are more helpful over the longer-term (and are more portable than using a wall or block for balance support).
After we talked about how balance can be hindered, then helped, we dug into a whole smattering of yoga asanas (poses) that have a balance component to them. Now, technically, one could argue that every yoga pose as a balance element to it (and that would be correct); but for the sake of time, the teacher chose to focus on the poses that are more challenging from a balance perspective – and I fully support her decision. ;)
Interestingly, the first pose the instructor did discuss was tadasana (mountain pose) – which actually seems like it is the most obvious choice to not include in a class like this. I mean, you’re just standing on your feet, right? People do that every day, all the time – so why the big fuss? Poor, misunderstood tadasana… Tadasana seems easy – until a person actually tries to do it as a yoga pose instead of as “just standing around”. Aligning knees above ankles, and hips above knees, and shoulders above hips, and head above shoulders, and THEN standing even and still – suddenly, ‘just standing’ ain’t so easy. Many beginning yoga students are shocked (shocked!) to learn that they have absolutely no balance when they hold their body in proper alignment. I know I was shocked as all heck when I had my lesson in tadasana (when I took my very first yoga class several years ago) – I knew my balance was crap, but I didn’t realize it was such crap. So in this tech we talked about the shocker that is tadasana; and then we moved on to more “challenging” poses like chair pose, tree pose, dancer’s pose…(all feet balances); then explored crow pose and side plank (hand balances); then boat pose (a seated balance). The common element that every single balance pose has in common is that the pose should consist of a lifting more than a sinking. When in tree pose, for example, the focus should be on lifting up in the hips and the chest, not sinking down on the leg. In side plank, one should feel a true lifting up in the arm that is extended in the air, not sinking into the arm that is on the floor. In every balance pose, the intention and the action should be a LIFT – not a sink.
Even just having this mindset of lift-versus-sink helps me achieve and sustain my balance in some pretty difficult poses. Again, the amazing power of the mind…
At the end of class tonight, I reviewed my notes – and realized I hadn’t taken very many. Why? Because I already knew a lot of the information the instructor shared with us. And this is in no way a slight on the instructor – she did a fabulous job! Rather, it’s a reflection of the quality of my year of yoga study; I actually really do know so much more than I did just 11 months ago. Wow. I think I might actually be ready to begin teaching some of this stuff….