This week marked the Spring Equinox, when days and nights are roughly equal, and the Northern Hemisphere is poised between winter’s icy grip and the intense heat of summer. Equilibrium, equipoise, equanimity—these qualities are also associated with yoga. And why not, since the very translation of Hatha Yoga implies balance? “Ha” refers to sun, “tha” to moon, and yoga means “to yoke” or “to join.” When we create equality between the opposites within (solar/lunar, hot/cold, hard/soft), we experience balance. And though it takes time to undo months of over-indulgence (or its opposite extreme, self-denial), yoga includes helpful tools that could qualify as first aid remedies. Here are a few:
1. Nadi shodhana. Alternate nostril breathing is one of the most effective methods to center yourself. Try it after an argument, before a presentation, or anytime you feel anxious. By clearing and balancing the solar (pingala) and lunar (ida) energy pathways, this pranayama creates feelings of harmony and peace.
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2. Mantra. One of the quickest ways to gather scattered energies is through the repetition of a mantra. Mantras can be practiced silently or aloud, with or without a mala, though those who use a mala find that over time it becomes charged with intent, imparting a sense of well-being the moment the beads are touched. The mantra So-hum (“I am that”) is simple and powerful as it cultivates an inner awareness of being in the present. After several cycles of breath, the mantra may become hamsa, known as the White Swan Meditation.
3. Mudra. The most familiar mudras use the hands and fingers to close pranic pathways, allowing energy to re-circulate through the body. Anjali mudra, the gesture of prayer, balances through the equal pressure of the right and left palms. For Bhairava mudra, rest the hands on your lap, right over left, palms up. Though this mudra is named for the fierce aspect of Shiva, it’s so simple and natural that it’s ideal for meditation or pranayama…or for a discreet energetic tune-up, perhaps while you’re seated on an airplane or at a conference table. In the feminine version, Bhairavi, the left hand is on top. As your awareness becomes more refined, notice the different feeling-tone between the two variations.
4. Balance poses. Attempting Vrksasana (Tree Pose) or Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) teaches us very quickly that it’s virtually impossible to balance externally without first balancing within. Through the one-pointed focus of drishti, the mind stills. As the mind stills, the breath calms, and then the body becomes the teacher. In this way, we practice the niyama of svadhyaya within asana. Svadhyaya is usually translated as self-study, or the study of scripture—and balance poses in particular can help us understand one of the seemingly contradictory themes of yoga, the inaction within action (Bhagavad Gita 4:18).
Experiment with one of these practices the next time you feel off-kilter. Like Goldilocks, you’ll discover that between “too hard” and “too soft,” there’s a middle way that’s just right.
What are some of your tried-and-true methods for regaining your center?
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