On and Off the Mat: Balance10,000 footprints
“Bring your weight into your left foot, spread the toes and press them evenly into the floor. Engage the thigh to lift the kneecap and draw the bellybutton back. Extend the crown of the head toward the ceiling while the shoulders remain relaxed.
Peel the right foot from the floor, heel, arch, toes. Place the sole of the right foot against the left calf and open the knee toward the side as you draw energy toward the center line of the body. As you’re ready, reach the arms wide and overhead, adding branches to your tree. Continue to root through your left foot and lift tall through the trunk of your vrksasana.”
Physically there is much happening in this pose: incorporating stability from tadasana (mountain pose), open hips from baddha konasa (bound angle/butterfly pose), and an engaged core from navasana (boat pose). Not to mention finding your drishti (gaze point), softening the muscles of your face and shoulders, and, perhaps most importantly, having the courage to lose your balance and fall.
The lessons from vrksasana extend beyond physically balancing on one foot. As a yoga and music teacher, business owner, and life adventurer, I have learned so much about my experiences off my mat by practicing balance postures on my mat.
I know I’m not alone when I say my biggest struggle in balance comes at work. In the United States we land in the bottom third on work-life balance, with many of us working past the hours we’re contracted to do, answering emails and phone calls after hours, going in early or staying late to finish a project. I even find dreams stolen away by work – subconscious conversations and situations that manifest when I’m sleeping.
Practicing balance on my mat brings a particular awareness to balance in my work life: when I’m dedicating more than my share of time at work, yoga has taught me to acknowledge and name it. Articulating this imbalance, I can take actions at home to support my Self. I am able to compensate with small practices such as one-minute mediations or mindful painting when I’m feeling overworked. Sometimes I have to put in the extra hours at work to get what I must do done, but yoga helps me balance the extra work with extra care.
We all love our family and show it in our own way. For many it is a struggle to balance time with parents, kids, siblings, and extend family with the time we dedicate to ourselves, our work, and our own social circle. Whether sharing a household, living in the same city, or distancing miles or countries away, finding the right family-time balance is empowering and beneficial to everyone in the family.
My biggest revelation I’ve discovered with my own family balance lies in practicing healthy boundaries. Establishing how much time and energy I have to dedicate to visiting my sister and nephew or going out for the day with my parents helps me balance with down time at home or meeting an old friend for a cup of tea.
Sometimes, like in my yoga practice, I fall out of balance with my family: seeing them much to rarely or so often I forget to call friends or put off business tasks. I remember what it is like to be unsteady or even falling on my mat; it is an important part of the practice. I reengage my awareness, root down, listen to my body more carefully, and keep moving toward the ever-shifting space that is balance.
My husband and I love to travel. It is one of the things that connected us when we first became friends. In our ideal life, we would be on the road exploring new places several months out of the year, but that isn’t in the cards quite yet. Right now, we balance our time working with weekend travel – day trips to explore a nearby town, hiking or camping, or visits to friends over a long weekend. When we do have the opportunity to travel for longer, we balance exploration days with relaxation days.
When I roll out my mat each day, it is important to me to listen to what my body needs. Some days it is a ramped up, fast flow. Other days it is a long yin practice. Sometimes I feel lucky to get in one or two sun salutations and am happy I completed an asana practice at all. Traveling is the same: some days are filled with enormous amounts of walking and energy and exploration, other days are best when we find a quaint coffee shop and watch the locals go by on their daily activities while we read the town newspaper.
Albert Einstein is credited saying, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Yoga practice is no different: we must keep moving forward. I’ve had years where I practiced yoga regularly, I’ve had years I did not practice at all. Balance postures have long been a favorite, and I believe it is because their lessons are reflected off the mat so clearly. Like riding a bike, our balance might wobble a bit; it is the steady movement that keeps us upright. Like riding a bike, if we’ve been away a while, returning is easier than when we first started. And like riding a bike, yoga teaches us so much about energy, joy, balance, and life.