Focus for April: Finding balance on and off the mat

Life is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, challenges and rewards.  The world around us is ever-changing and evolving.  So how do we stay balanced and centred when nothing around us is constant?  This month in class we are exploring how our yoga practice can go some way toward keeping us grounded and balanced whatever life throws at us.

Firstly, we will be delving into the obvious theme of balancing postures.  Single-leg standing postures and arm balances can be a real challenge and why is this?  There is no single answer to this question so we will look at the many components towards finding ease in balancing asanas including creating a strong and stable foundation, fine tuning the alignment in a pose, understanding how to prepare and strengthen our bodies for the more challenging balancing postures and, perhaps most importantly of all, finding the stillness of mind and steady focus required to hold the posture comfortably.

The physical practice of yoga asanas – I’m talking generally here, not just the balancing postures – will help to bring balance into the body, improving our posture and restoring health.  However most of us are, to some degree, lopsided;  in that we predominantly use one side of the body more than the other e.g. write with one hand; step forward with the same foot, carry bags on one shoulder; sleep on one side etc.  These patterns can cause us to experience a little more tightness or to be more weight bearing on either the right or left side.  I have been asking my students to pay particular attention to these patterns, which will hopefully filter through to day-to-day activities.

Finding parity in our physical yoga practice can be assisted by employing the qualities of sthira (firm, steady, stable, attentive) alongside sukha (ease, comfort, joy).

After balancing our physical bodies, we can encourage equilibrium in our energetic body with balancing pranayama practices.  Thus, Nadi Sodhana pranayama will be a mainstay of April’s classes.  Nadi Sodhana (nerve cleansing) pranayama works to even the flow of breath through the right and left nostrils.  In yoga philosophy, our energetic body consists of a network of nadis (channels) through which prana (life force) flows.  The three main nadis are ida (corresponding to the left nostril), pingala (right nostril) and sushumna, the central channel along which the chakras are located.  In order to achieve a higher state of consciousness through meditation, Sushumna nadi must flow and this can only be achieved by first equalising the flow of prana between ida and pingala nadis.  The benefits of Nadi Sodhana will reach us on all levels, harmonising the left and right brain hemispheres, body and mind, introversion and extroversion, thought and action.

Some of my classes may be physically challenging this month (let’s be honest, when has balancing on your two hands ever been easy?)  However,  I hope that my students will find equality between the will and effort required to approach these practices alongside a playful and accepting attitude.  Just as I, in writing this blog, have tried to find the middle ground between a thoughtful, informative article and my self-critical perfectionist streak!  Now there is something for me to work on…!

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