Yoga for Balance: Yoga & Balance

A Personal Experience

Since every person has a unique state of being, no one thing necessarily brings about individual balance. For example, extensive practice of Exercise A, a core strengthener, may help one student relieve low back pain, improve posture, and increase her feelings of confidence and willpower. Thus, the exercise brings this person more into balance. The same activity practiced often by another who has overly contracted core muscles may increase existing tension and cause referred pain or anxiety. Thus, Exercise A doesn’t in and of itself bring about a balanced core.

Group vs Individual Teaching

The fact that many different people can leave a group yoga class feeling more balanced is likely due to the spectrum of practices offered over the length of the class. (Other reasons may include breath awareness and mindfulness practices that lead to greater sensitivity, individualizing the practice, parasympathetic activation and other positive impacts on the individual’s state.) A thoughtfully taught sequence of practices is an important and valuable hallmark of effective yoga classes. But in addition, a key point when it comes to using yoga tools is to remember that balance is personal and care will need to be taken to ensure an individual is practicing what they need for their individual situation.

Sequencing to Balance Energy

A fundamental goal of a sequence is to bring energetic balance. Balancing energy may be considered in terms of an individual student need and/or be part of a general approach such as balancing the effects of a season. For example, during the heat and activity of a busy summer, we might choose cooling practices such as Forward Bends, Yin Yoga or Restorative Yoga to bring balance.

See more: Sequencing to Balance Energy

Balancing Yoga Practices

Some yoga practices are said to be generally balancing. Here are some:

  1. Neutral Poses – These poses allow for natural spinal curves and can be a time to “pause and feel” the effects of previous poses. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Dandasana (Stick / Staff Pose) are two examples.
  2. Counterposes – Relieve tension created from previous poses.
  3. Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) –  Balance brain hemispheres. Balance ida and pingala nadis.
  4. Twists – Said to balance the nervous system – calming when feeling agitated; stimulating when feeling lethargic.
  5. Balancing Poses – While often strengthening, also requires integrating various parts of the body to bring the body into a balancing posture.
  6. Pratyahara & Meditation – Can bring balance to mind and body.
  7. Yoga Sutra 2.33 – One philosophy teaching for consideration is Yoga Sutra 2.33: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.

Practices Move Us Toward Balance

Physical postures, breath practices, and meditation are the practices that move you toward the balance that is yoga. – Rodney Yee

Balancing the Individual

All our lives we hear of the importance of having a “balanced diet.” Yet… what we require is not a balanced diet but a balancing diet. We require a diet that balances us, not itself. In the same way, our personal asana practice should not be balanced but should balance us… Not only must the practice as a whole be balancing, but each pose must also be balancing. Usually a student is stiffer on one side than another, and staying for an equal length of time on both sides does not balance the student. Instruct the student to stay a couple of extra breaths on the side on which they are stiffer and their body will slowly move back into balance… Because a student’s condition is inherently one-sided, we must help him use asana to balance his condition. A student whose physical nature is kapha… must generally practice more vigorously to balance his or her dosha… A student who is pitta… generally needs a more calming practice… A student with a vatta condition… needs a grounding practice to bring them down to earth.  – Aadil Palkhivala

See also: Dosha Balancing

Yoga Sutra 2.33: Cultivating the Opposite

Yoga Sutra 2.33 — When presented with disquieting thoughts or feelings, cultivate an opposite, elevated attitude… There are multiple ways and levels in which you find balance. In this week’s sutra, we’re invited to cultivate the opposite. It’s shared in the context of our thoughts, but there are many ways this idea shows up, such as our Tree Pose example of not just cultivating one direction in a pose but also bringing in the opposite. As usual with the Sutras, this doesn’t mean if you just think positively then everything will be fine. That’s not really how the Sutras, much less life!, works. What it means for me is remembering that I can sometimes bring in a different way of looking at things than I normally would. – Anna Guest-Jelley

See also: Yoga Sutra Translations: Book Two