Part 3 of this Blog series on Balancing into the Fall Season steps into the World of postural balance. As we saw with the last two blog posts, balance is very multi-dimensional with a layering of meanings for each and every one of us. The human body, mind and soul are so amazing in their constant dance with life. Change is continuous, and as we embrace this concept, we realize that balance is the practice we seek. Not balance in a rigid, “I only do it this way,” sort of thought. But the type of balance that sways, and dances, that meets new challenges, steps more fully into the present moment, looks out at the World through the eyes of a child in awe and wonder. Balance in many ways can be seen as not solid at all, but instead movable, and ever flowing. The Sanskrit term from Patanjali, “Sthira Sukha Asanam” best describes this. We seek inner stillness in our flowing nature, and with it there is an inherent contentment, an alertness, and a feeling of coming home.
All of us can bring to mind times in our lives when we felt so “on,” so “focused,” so “alive and healthy” in our bodies. These are glimpses of a moment, which can feel very elating, leaving us wanting more. This could even be seen as the basis of why so many ancient seekers engaged in yoga practices – to reach that state of deep awareness, authenticity, and a sense of coming home to “now.”
As we look at balance from a state of body structure, there are many factors that come into play. Our vital nervous system is the animator of our structure. It flows like a river of energetic impulse thru our muscles which in concert with our bones and other soft tissue, create movement. All movement practices can be seen as this play of the nervous system through our bodies. And, there are times in our lives, daily lifestyle choices, traumas and joyful elation, all of which contribute their own markings to how this orchestra of our human body functions. Within all of this we can do our best to consciously engage in practices that help us move towards our optimal structural balance.
Some of the deeper nervous system faculties move within the concept of proprioception, basically, the deep knowing of where we are in time and space, an important sensory faculty – said to be one of the first to leave after age 40. However, it is also one of the first we can retrieve and maintain with focused practices. The information in the last two blogs of this 4-part blog series discussed other aspects of balance and need to be considered as you read part 3. Remember, we are extraordinary, multi-dimensional, moving creatures dwelling on a living planet, in a human body, seeking awareness, and also transcendence. Bringing in breath and focusing techniques as well as proper seasonally based nutrition and spiritual inspiration are all parts to this Whole.
Considering the concept of structural balance in the Fall Season reveals that when the Vata Dosha (air and space element) are high, imbalances can occur in our ability to feel calm and grounded. We need to create deeper focus so that as we move about, we stay safe. I once read that there are estimated to be more Falls in the Autumn season, as well as bone issues. With so much extra Air and Space element around us and within us this makes sense. This is a time to nutritionally care for our bones; and as well to employ balance practices in our daily movement routines. In fact, as we age, we are at increased risk for Falls and injuries. There are many reasons for this, but if seen thru the eyes of Ayurveda, we know that as we age we become more Vata focused – a preparation for our eventual transition out of this body. Vata, with its predominance of air and space, is naturally more air-like, spiritual, and inspired. All wonderful on a dreamy day; but which can make us more susceptible to bone and nervous system issues during our daily lives.
Because we can be more easily thrown off balance at this time of year, consider your movement practices to be more slow, focused, and strengthening. Always follow longer held stretches with good strengthening around those particular joints. Weight training in moderation 3-4 times per week is an excellent way to bring in more bone density, strength and a sense of deeper body awareness – all of which contributes to our sense of balance. Always balance spurts of activity with great relaxation and sleep for the best tissue integration.
In the Season of Vata, the Fall Season, all movement should be preceded by movements to free up the joints. I love the Joint Freeing Series shared with me many years ago by Mukunda Stiles, for which he adapted from the Bihar College of India. A set of somatics based simple movements, the Joint Freeing Series helps to create freedom in the body and the mind, while also balancing the flow of prana through the body. From here you can then move into a balanced yoga asana practice with each movement surrounded by slow breath. Choose poses to guide you into being fully awake and present. Favor standing balancing poses using a drishti (eye placement) in front of you and slightly downward. Two of my favorite balancing poses that can be modified for safety and advanced as deeper integration occurs, are Stork Pose, and Tree Pose. Not only do these poses teach all of the finer qualities of what balance can mean to somebody (from deep humility to strength in the bones), but they also bring in stability and strength. Choose poses that feel very earth oriented, like various movements on all 4’s – which not only ground thru the lower body, but also thru the hands and arms. I like to include cat/cow variations and downward facing dog movements. Include simple inversions in these daily practices which help to quiet the mind, such as legs up the wall, or half shoulderstand. And, always, for balancing Vata, focus on creating a longer exhale.
Complete your practices with a sweet relaxation, using a blanket to find warmth and grounding, and even an eye cover. This reminds the nervous system that all is well.
Seeking balance techniques does not just equate to being more adept in a yoga class. In fact, the yoga class, your yoga mat, can be seen as the metaphor for how you move in your life. Consistent exercise and movement practices not only helps in recovering balance, but also creates confidence and autonomy. Consider your whole day as a sacred offering to yourself – as the practice to living life in an aware and very present state. Here are some other ideas to help you strike a balance:
- Take time to look at your posture, in a mirror. Finding postural integrity in a static stand is important for all structural balance. Seek a certified Yoga Therapist to get a complete postural assessment, both static standing and in movement.
- Change positions often. Just sitting at a computer for even one hour can create postural imbalance felt through the whole body. As well, sitting for hours in an overly soft easy chair to watch your favorite program can be very debilitating over time. Take breaks, move around.
- Include practices each day to improve your structural balance. Here are some good ideas:
- Practice sitting and standing, as balanced as possible, working towards not using your hands to guide you. Make sure you are safe, starting with a kitchen chair backed to a wall. Engage your abs for this and exhale with movement. Once you feel confident with this work your way eventually to sitting and standing from the floor with ease and grace.
- Balance daily on one leg – whether it is for a few second, to holding for a minute. Begin with just lifting your foot off the floor working to keep your hips even and breathing slowly. Eventually you can bring the hip and knee to 90 degrees each, a big step in balance.
- Strengthen your legs daily, which is an integral component of structural balance. Chair poses, lunge poses and side to side squat steps are all excellent for this.
- Take time daily to reach your arms skyward, to rotate your spine and get free-form movement such as dancing to music.
Spend time each day with these tips offered and come up with your own. Continue to explore and find balance in all ways of your life.
You’ll never change your life, until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine. John C. Maxwell