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Balance

Last month we discussed tapas, the discipline that we need foster and maintain in order to have a successful yoga practice and a fulfilling life.  As we consider the importance of tapas, however, it is important that we quickly add how important it is to have balance in our practice both on the mat and off.

Intuitively, we all understand the value of balance.  From a yoga āsana perspective, we immediately recognize the significance of balance as we consider our alignment principles.  We begin by opening to Grace, softening to the outer world while begin to open our inner awareness.  Our body expands and feels the support from the earth below and the awareness which transcends space and time.  As we take a carefully aligned foundation, we engage our muscles firmly, hugging the shins in and engaging the thighs and pelvis more broadly.  We then balance this action with one in which we lengthen the tailbone down and the front of the pelvis toward our navel.  Finally we engage organically from our core to our extremities.  We continue to refine this balance of muscular and organic energy, creating a continuous pulsation with our breath, aware that our pose is not static, but moves with our breath. 

As we engage our āsana practice and our life off our mat, we can also appreciate the great value of balance.  If we engage muscularly with such vigor that we produce stress or injury, we will obviously negate the benefits that we are trying to achieve in our practice.  On the other hand, if we do not give sufficient effort to learn each pose and to practice with increased awareness and dedication, our practice will not evolve; it will not become more refined.  Moreover, if we limit our yoga practice to the physical practice alone, ignoring the themes that are being offered to us or not trying other yogic practices such as kirtan, pranayama, or meditation; we are not experiencing yoga in a balanced manner.

The Bhagavad Gita addresses balance in a more refined way than does the Yoga Sutras.  The latter simply discusses that a yogin can be dedicated in varying degrees, and that we will achieve the goal of yoga (samādhi) if we apply ourselves with maximum dedication (I.21).

The Gita, though, emphasizes that we should be balanced and moderate in life as well as in our practice of yoga: “For the yogin who is moderate in food and play, moderate in performing actions, moderate in sleep and waking, for this person is the yoga that destroys sorrow” (VI. 18). 

As a transitional text between the more classical yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras and the tantric texts such as the Shiva Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita brings us beyond the simplicity of the notion that the inner connection to Spirit (samādhi) is good and the pleasures of the world are binding and potentially problematic. 

Rather than advocating renunciation of the world, the Gita brings to light a more refined understanding and approach:  Rather than merely shying away from the problems of the world, we should learn the value of yoga as skill in action.  We renounce only what is not life-supporting and enjoy everything else.

Binaries are easy and simple: good vs. bad; pleasure vs. pain.  Subtle distinctions are the territory of transitional texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, along with the Tantric texts that follow.  To be sure, it takes more creativity and effort to find the right balances in life, and it takes more engagement to discover the divine in all aspects of life.  It is also so much more liberating, delightful, artistic, expansive, and all-encompassing.  With so many possibilities, it is a wonderful time to be practice yoga!

You can practice balance today by challenging yourself with something new:  Perhaps you might try a different style or level of āsana practice.  Maybe you can challenge yourself to meet some of your āsanas with an open mind, letting go of what you think are your limitations.