Balance is a trinity. It is process, picture and practice, always.
It is 106 degrees in this room, give or take, and I am pouring sweat. It is a struggle to breathe, to move, to stay alert. I want to let my consciousness slip away.
Process. We have the scales: the balancing act, the performance of achieving balance. The weight of things is important; we add grains on each side, hoping to calibrate an equilibrium.
My ankles wobble, my wrists give. I can feel tiny muscles calibrating, fighting to contract for just a little longer
Picture. We have the taijitu, yin and yang: together, a still representation of balance achieved. This is what balance looks like—a recipe with which to begin the process, a picture of the moment when the process has ended.
I have one leg clasped behind my back, and I’m leaning forward on the other leg. It vibrates madly beneath me, and I wonder how it will hold me up for ten more seconds. I don’t know how, but it does. “If you can stay present under these conditions,” the instructor says encouragingly, “imagine how much easier it will be to deal with daily stresses.”
Practice. We have the buoy: practical balance. The buoy applies the principles of balancing scales and dynamically exemplifies the taijitu by always coming back to center. The buoy is balance in practice, unable to be toppled by simple virtue of its nature.
Countless times in that sweaty room, I lose my balance. I tip over. My ankles have always been weak, and in response I have been delicate with them. As a consequence of my delicacy, they have grown even weaker. I am upset with myself for coddling them and weakening my foundation, and as soon as those feelings course through me, I topple.
I believe I am seeking balance now because I am in transition. When we throw stability out of the window, anything that looks like consistency feels like home. The Bikram sequence speaks to me because it is the same progression, every day. Amid the shifting sands of starting from scratch—new home, newly embraced career, new friends, new worldview—repetition focuses me like coffee.
The stress of transition has rendered me unfamiliar with surrender, recently. I haven’t been sleeping well and my focus is underscored by a low-level hum of anxious thoughts. Am I doing this right? What if I fail? Can I handle success? Am I too vulnerable? Am I being taken advantage of? Did I make the wrong decision? My brain never gets tired enough to stop circling through these questions, and so surrender and peace elude me. I want to sleep through the night.
Yoga brings me back to balance in practice. To be solid on the ground, immovable if I choose to be. To feel grounded—that is, to feel the ground in my throat when I plant my feet. To be a tree with deep roots. To open my earth star chakra, which will happen only through surrender to the process, picture, and practice.
A mirror runs the full length of the wall in the studio, so I can see exactly how out of alignment I am. My hips don’t stack on top of my knees, my shoulders collapse forward, my legs bow, my arms bend. I sigh in frustration, which takes my breath out of alignment as well. I am squatted down, foot arched, toes flexed on the floor, and I’m ready to cry because I can’t find my balance, I will never find my balance, everything hurts and it’s too hard to breathe.
My mind starts to spiral and my chest constricts.
Bikram yoga is yet another thing I am failing at.
The instructor says, calmly, “Find your breath and you will find your balance.”
The scales come to mind again as my foundation shakes, and I find clarity: frustration drops a wrench into gears that already needed greasing and calibration. We can’t find our breath if we’re crying with it, or sighing with it, or otherwise expressing our frustration with it. We need to let “in” and “out” be the same weight. If we want balance, we need to choose what fits on our scales. We need to let go of patterns that complicate without benefit. Simplification aids balance.
Several poses later, I lean forward, my ankle trembling beneath me, and breathe out all of the emotions. I look up into the mirror and catch my eye and my breath at the same time. For two breaths, in and out, I experience balance in practice. Buoyancy effortless as a balloon.
I came to this class because I had a choose-your-own-adventure book in pieces on the floor of my new living room. I ripped out each ending and paste it on a piece of butcher paper, making a paper tapestry to hang on the wall. My favorite ending says, “The universe is an infinite self-balancing mechanism. When you die, you see that everything you did, everything we all do, is right and in balance, by virtue of it happening.” At that moment, my phone buzzed with an email about yoga in my area. It seemed like a sign.
We lie on our backs and I am afraid of my running list of anxieties. The instructor speaks about pushing ourselves to surrender, about making ourselves uncomfortable so as to more fully relax. I tense up when she says this—if I relax, if I stop guarding myself from my fears, what will happen to me?—but my muscles weigh too much after so much work and they pull me into surrender to Savasana. Calm washes over me and tears stream from the corners of my eyes. My breath stays steady, in and out. My mind is finally blank. All that I hear is my heartbeat, slow and sure.
I believe that most of us are seeking buoy-balance: balance in practice. We want to be grounded and we want to soar.
As for me, I want to be a bop-bag—so perfectly balanced that I can’t be knocked down. I want to rise to my full height, despite the punches, always. I am learning that the trinity of balance—process, picture, practice—is held together by active choice. All of us can decide, every day, to seek balance. We can discern which elements of our lives promote balance and excise those that don’t. We can make ourselves uncomfortable to become stronger. And when we wobble and tip over, we can get up and try again. Maybe the bop-bag rises again out of habit more than anything else.
Just for today, just for this breath, I can do that. Will you?
Author: Tessla Coil
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Balancer of the elements/DeviantArt