This part of the year is marked by the spring equinox – the point in the year when the day is exactly as long as the night. It is a time of anticipation, as winter is poised on the brink of becoming spring. Ironically, the weather can be quite tumultuous this time of year. Rather than a graceful dance of balance and poise, it can appear as a violent tug of war. The changing of the seasons is a powerful reminder of the reality of constant shift and change, and the necessity of finding some sense of balance deep within our selves. How can our yoga practice help us to maintain a sense of calm and equanimity through the inevitable fluctuations of our lives?
On the yoga mat, we practice mindful transitions and holding of poses. When we are moving from one position to the next, it is essential to find some point of stillness – be it a gazing point, or a focus on the mid-line, the navel or the heart center. When we find that which remains steady in the midst of movement, our movements are infused with an easy grace. Conversely, when we are called on to hold a steady pose for a length of time, while we still need to find some still point inside, it may also behoove us to allow space for some movement. To feel how our bodies to respond to the subtle fluctuations of breath, the micro-adjustments of the many tiny muscles and bones of the foot, the center of gravity ever shifting in minute ways.
Trees are a great example of this in the natural world, as well as on the yoga mat. Even the greatest tall trees bend in the wind. They are firmly and deeply rooted, but when the wind blows, those great limbs move and dance. If they were stiff, they would break and fall. Human builders have learned this lesson as well. In the words of Ani DiFranco, “Buildings and bridges were built to bend in the wind. To withstand the world, that’s what it takes. All that steel and stone are no match for the air my friend – what doesn’t bend breaks; what doesn’t bend breaks.”
If you are a regular practitioner of yoga, you have no doubt noticed that our balance and abilities change day by day depending on any number of factors, some within our control, some not, and many mysteriously in between. With practice our abilities become more consistent, but our sensitivity to minor changes also increases. True practice is not about nailing the pose every single time – it is about how we respond when we lose our balance. When you fall out of a pose, how do you respond? Do you get frustrated and feel envious of the person next to you seemingly effortlessly holding the pose? Do you obsess over why it feels so impossible today? Or do you return to the breath, and return to the pose again as a completely new opportunity to commit to the ever-changing truth of this moment?
Pranayama practices can also help us maintain a sense of inner poise. Alternate nostril breathing is a powerful stabilizing breath. It helps to balance to hemispheres of the brain, and can get us out of “black and white”, “this or that” thinking. It can help us to move beyond our ideas about “right” and “wrong”, and into a space of equanimity where we can abide in a deep knowing that everything changes and passes with the moment. We can never fully comprehend all of the mystery at once, but perhaps we can find space to accommodate the possibilities.
Written By: Leaflin Winecoff