Balancing With Yoga
The benefits of a regular yoga practice can be summed up in one word balance. If you have tight shoulder muscles or hamstrings, you'll learn to stretch them. If you have weak arms or abdominal muscles, you'll learn to strengthen them. If you're tired, there are yoga poses to energize you. If your mind is racing, there are poses to calm you.
Many people are drawn to yoga because of some imbalance in their life. Common complaints in beginners' classes include insomnia, stress, chronic back pain, high blood pressure, arthritis, sinus problems and general stiffness.
The Iyengar method of Hatha Yoga focuses great attention on principles of balance and physical alignment. In the first standing pose, Mountain Pose, students observe the balance on their feet right/left, balls/heels, inner/outer foot. Balance the base of the pose first, and then bring awareness to the ankles, shins, kneecaps and up through to the crown of the head.
Something powerful happens in that effort to balance on your two feet the mind focuses, the endless laundry list of things to do recedes. Concentration on the here and now comes to the forefront of awareness. The breath steadies, and the mind quiets down. Physical poise brings mental poise.
By paying attention to the skeletal structure of the body, we learn to align bone-by-bone with the force of gravity and the laws of nature. Like mighty Atlas of Greek mythology, we learn to let go of unnecessary burdens (“Oh, those hunching shoulders, I can drop them, hooray!”) and direct our attention to what really mattersthe journey towards balance.
As body and mind, self and other, family and community, planet and universe are all inter-connected (yoga means union, after all) our individual journey towards balance extends both inward to our tissues and cells and outward to the farthest reaches of the cosmos. As the anklebone is connected to the shinbone, so the individual is connected to the planet. At this time of crisis in the health of our planet, we need every tool available to help us see our interconnectedness, and to address the personal, political and planetary imbalances that are so prevalent. Yoga is an ancient practice that has been passed down through thousands of years. It is a system that refines our awareness of the imbalances within us and around us, and shows us how to even the scales so that our lives, the lives of others, and the world at large can move together towards greater harmony and balance.