You do not have to be a yogi to know when something in your life or in your body is out of balance. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down what exactly the “thing” is that is causing an imbalance, no matter how much you practice yoga or seek to straighten things out. Often, the best indicator that something is out of whack is when we physically have trouble balancing.
For example, any day I have an exceptionally clumsy day, feel “ungraceful” during my practice or cannot hold an inversion I’m use to holding, I know something must be out of balance.
Yoga And Balance
When I first started yoga, balance was a foreign concept to me and it was often even overwhelming. At first, I thought of balance as mostly physical, I considered it to be the way my body moved through space. I slowly began to realize that balance played into many deeper aspects of life.
I soon understood that balanced ruled every aspect of life—a realization that quickly took my yoga practice to a dark place. To wrap my head around the idea that EVERYTHING has an opposite was a little much. Effort and rest, masculine and feminine, sun and moon, good and bad, happy and sad – some of these opposites made sense to me.
Okay, so I will never know what’s good if I don’t experience the bad, but what about the bigger ideas, the more abstract ideas?
The True ‘Self’
There was still one concept that not only mystified and overwhelmed me but made me question my commitment to yoga - the idea of the true Self, which didn’t seem balanced by an opposite. My teachers and all the yoga books I read made me think I had set forth on an impossible and daunting journey of trying to separate my external self and ego from my internal true Self.
And yes, that is the journey but the idea of dismissing the whole concept of who I am in every day life seemed impossible, I thought any one else who claimed that they had were probably living a lie. Now, I realize that the whole deal with yoga and enlightenment is not to meditate your ego away but to balance your connection with your true Self and your bodily self.
Once I realized this, it was like a burden was lifted off my shoulders and I could begin focusing on what it really means to find balance in life. There are several concepts in yoga supporting this idea of balancing the connection you have with your external self and your inner consciousness. For example, the relationship between our inhale and exhale is loosely considered to be the relationship between prana and apana.
Prana And Apana
Prana is the life force. Although it is the main energy of the body and is considered to be fed by our “inhale,” prana is not consciousness. Prana uses the inhale to feed our body and our energy. Prana is always evolving and moving forward.
On the other hand, apana is deeply connected to the physical body. Apana rules our exhale and other eliminations from our body. Prana is seen as the “positive” and “apana” as the negative and together, they balance one another. When both are equal and harmonious, one may begin to see the effects of Kundalini rising. Pranayama is the most effective way to balance prana and apana.
Purusa And Prakrti
Another commonly discussed relationship is that between Purusa and Prakrti. Prakrti is the body and the mind. Everything physical or manifest arises from Prakrti; it is everything but Purusa. Purusa is the witness, the egoless consciousness that is not produced from anything. Within Prakrti is an endless universe of elements that can be balanced.
However, the gunas, or our mental constitutions, are typically the most important and, perhaps, the most subtle. The gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas – represent our physical and manifest selves. Ideally, we want to always be moving towards the sattvic state by not allowing tamas and rajas to become unbalanced. When we reach this sattvic state, then we are able to see clearly through Purusha. When body, mind and soul are balanced, so are Prakrti and Purusa and vice versa.
There is an endless list of opposites in yoga. Read any text and there is significant emphasis on balance and rarely is there no mention of Purusa and Prakrti or Shiva and Shakti. Balance rules every aspect of our lives, on and off the mat, yogi or non yogi. Once we are able to tap in and understand that it is okay to be unbalanced, and that our work is to constantly move towards that balance, we can set to work on figuring out what our body, mind and soul need to achieve this balance.
by Molly Haight - Molly is a San Francisco-based yoga teacher. When she isn't teaching or practicing yoga, she is working hard to plan rad outdoor adventures for herself and others. Molly is also a runner and works to connect runners and athletes with their own yoga practice. Visit her website for more info on retreats and yoga for runners and athletes, and connect with her on Instagram.
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