November in England is a strange month, the leaves have turned their beautiful array of colours and are now dropping from the trees, the temperature has started to drop and is now much colder, the clocks have gone back, the days are shorter and it is truly beginning to feel a little wintery. For many these changes, although part of the natural seasonal cycle, are the herald of hibernation and slowing down. It’s no small wonder that many feel unbalanced and out of sorts.
How do you find balance when you are feeling unbalanced and out of sorts ? How do you find that essential restorative stillness and peace, when you are feeling caught in the hurly burly of life ?
Yoga poses that incorporate balances – whether supine, seated, kneeling, inverted, or standing are all useful as a basis for rebalancing yourself. Personally I prefer standing balances such as tadasana (mountain), natarajasana (dancer), padangusthasana (leg raised), vrkasana (tree), virabhasana III (warrior).
Standing in a balance can be a beautiful meditation, and has been recognised in many traditions as a good practice for the mind as much as the body. Balance to bring yourself back into balance. The beauty of standing balances is that you can actually do them anywhere, anytime. And who knew that walking is a form of moving balance ? So slow motion walking is a wonderful practice and is probably the most functionally natural thing you can do ! Slow it right down and pause too. We do a lot of this in class, and its usually a homework assignment. It is so accessible, and natural and beneficial. For those who feel nervous about falling from a balance, a walking balance is a fine and safe starting point.
Other and different postural balance variations (or asana as the yogis call them) are equally interesting and fun to explore, however the more complex the posture, the greater the likelihood that we get caught up in “twisty-bendy angst” or as TKV Desikachar and his father the great, Śrī T Krishnamacharya called it: “aṅga bhanga sādhana”. Aṅga means ‘limb,’ bhanga means ‘to disrupt’ or cause disharmony, and the term sādhana means ‘practice.’ Yoga as such should not be a practice that disrupts the harmonious movement of body, breath and mind. So doing complex postures can run the risk of leading you towards excess effort, pain, ego and narcissism. This is why for this practice I like to keep it simple and focus on the essential exploration for us – which is simply standing or walking and finding a simple balance such as lifting one foot off the ground.
This practice is also a double act. First we balance, and find balance, and then we find the stillness. This is typically found when we stop any sense of strain, wobbling and wrestling with ourselves. Then, all the components of the balance come together. I used to talk about the components (see box below) as being like pegs to pin down our body and mind which are in a lockstep wobble or flap! When we accomodate our restless, flapping or whirling mind we find that we wobble lots. The wobble occurs the other way round too – a wobbling body leads to a wobbling mind but thats usually because our egos are at the wheel and that fuels more wobbling!! We are human so this is natural and it is one reason why I like the simple standing one legged balance, or slow motion walking meditation because it harnesses our wobbles well.
Resting in our stillness is the second half of the double act. It is something you can do regardless of any balancing you may wish to explore, but sometimes balancing, because it forces us to attend to the balance itself, enables us to establish single pointed attention, and this in turn can help us find the elusive centre of our stillness and focus on that too.
Most people find that if they place their attention at the point of the belly button and an inch or two inwards, this spot is a great place to watch and wait for the centre of the stillness to arise. Sounds crazy because stillness is all in the mind, right ? Well, your mission, should you chose to accept it – is to find out !
So we say farewell to November, and move on to December. The theme in classes and personal sadhana – or self study and practice for December is “holding space”. Watch this space to find out more !