Fall Into Balance
Yoga Sutra 2.46
sthira sukham asanam
“The connection to the earth should be steady and joyful.”
It’s fall, y’all!
I grew up in Colorado, and fall is my favorite time of year up there. Mother Nature paints the mountains in shimmering colors as the leaves on the aspen trees dance their way through vibrant shades of gold to crimson; a magnificent display before effortlessly releasing it all to rest for winter. It is a time when the merciless heat of summer surrenders to a cool, crisp breeze that calms you with its soothing touch. Autumn in Colorado feels relaxed and at ease, and I felt a solid connection to the earth which helped me fall into balance with the natural flow of life.
The changing of the seasons reminds us to accept and welcome the ever-constant transitions in our lives. Life brings a constant ebb and flow of alternating energies for us to experience both sides of our center. We have to get knocked off-kilter in order to fall back into balance and witness the harmony that is found at our core.
I lost my footing in Boulder in 2008 when I was fired from my first massage job. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, and I completely lost all sense of balance. I ended up having to leave my friends and life in Colorado and move to New Orleans to live with my parents. Soon following, I became more aware of how imbalanced my life was on many different levels. I excelled in self-deprecating behavior: spending more money than I was earning, eating more calories than I could burn off, and dealing with a lot of negative self-talk for not being strong enough to fight the temptations. It felt like everything fell out of balance; the relationship with my body, my finances, my friends, my family, and especially to my Self, or my connection to Source.
It’s funny how one small event in our lives can carry with it such an enormous impact. I tried so many ways to fill the emptiness I was feeling inside that I ended up burying my feelings under layers of protection, only to succeed in moving farther and farther from my Self. My subconscious decided I needed to be pushed as far out-of-whack as possible for me to see the bigger picture, so that I could fall into balance with a new perspective needed to grow and change. The effort I was putting forth in my life was causing major imbalances instead of holding me steady at my core. It’s like riding on the outside of a merry-go-round—it’s harder to find stability in your footing, but when at the center, you are still and grounded as the world moves around you.
Can you relate? What stories do you tell yourself? What outdated narratives are not serving you? What new stories would you like to tell?
In a collection of notes, or sacred threads, that describe the philosophy of yoga and its applied practice, Sage Pantanjali wrote Yoga Sutra 2.46: sthira sukham asanam – the connection to the earth should be steady and joyful.
Steady, unwavering, connected to roots, holding the body upright with muscular strength.
Sweet, full of ease, comfortable, happy and light.
Seat, a physical posture, the 3rd limb of Patanjali’s 8-fold path.
Falling into balance between effort and ease is yoga’s primary goal. Balance, or in Sanskrit, tula, is not a static or fixed state. We are constantly readjusting ourselves to our ever-changing environment, and the parts of our body in relationship to each other to maintain stability. This original subtle vibration, pulse or movement is called spanda. You can feel it in the movement of the breath. The breath is the gateway between the body, heart, and mind, and is an essential tool for grounding, opening, and healing. Generally, we inhale to lift upward, lengthen and expand, and exhale to release downward and fold in. Each breath, each action, each movement, each chosen asana should facilitate greater levels of balance in the body.
Observe a devoted, long-term student in their asanas and you may notice how relaxed they are in their bodies, as though they are hardly putting forth any effort at all. Yoga is not meant to cause strain; that is the mind thinking too much about the pose. Do the aspen trees resist the letting go of their leaves? No, they embrace and accept change as it comes. Notice in your practice if you are holding on to a certain way you think it should be done, and instead, feel your body in the poses. Play with the spanda, or pulse between pressing into the earth and expanding away from it, avoiding any forcefulness.
It is on our mats where we play with finding balance, so that we can exercise those skills in our day-to-day lives and fall into balance. I am nowhere near where I want to be in terms of the perfect balance, a place that only exists in the mind, but I have come a long way since I lost that job in Boulder. I have learned how to enjoy the ride through the good times and the rough. When I am in my center, I feel spanda, that healthy pulsation of energy which is not static but vibrant. It has rhythm but is not extreme. Life is ever-changing and constantly moving like the seasons, and we must find our center so that we can live in peace with whatever comes.
Think of each class as a mountain. Start by getting the class centered in their bodies with breath, and with an intention to connect to the core center of our being. Build the strength needed to get to your peak pose, then descend back down to rest in a quiet and calming savasana. Concentrate on the Mula bhanda, that navel to spine connection.
Explain and describe the transverse abdominus (TVA) muscle. The abs are different from the core muscles. The TVA is located under the obliques and is the deepest of the abdominal muscles. It wraps around our spine for protection and stability of the lower back. It’s our natural weight belt, it acts first and supports the larger muscles. It wraps around us like a corset but doesn’t connect all the way in the front. Draw in the energy and start from the core, in all poses.
When I say focus on the core, I don’t mean boat pose. You cannot climb a mountain in a boat. Think in shorter transitions incorporating strength into the movement, like a push-up from chataranga dandasana.
Focus on the General Rules of Alignment
- All movement is initiated by breath
- Create a neutral spine/maintain spinal curves
- Elongate the spine
- Balance flexibility and strength
- Stabilize parts that are hyper mobile, and mobilize parts that are immobile
- Open/align/strengthen shoulder and hips – as the four “root” corners of the body, these areas must be addressed for health of the whole. Most peripheral injuries stem from a misalignment in the core corners of the body.
- Root to rise
- Move from core to periphery
- Move from inner body
2 Main Universal Principles of Alignment
- 2nd Principle – Muscular Energy (primary)
o Contracting; embracing; solidifies container of body
o Engages muscles to bones
o Draws all parts to midline
o Draws energy magnetically from periphery to core (into focal point)
- 5th Principle – Organic Energy/Extension (Primary)
o Expansive; extending; roots and uplifts our energy
o Extends bones into the Earth (from focal point), and then up towards sky
o Expands energy from midline out
o Extends from core back out to periphery
- Sama Vritti: sama = same, vritti = fluctuations. Finding an even and balanced breath on the inhale and exhale.
- Nadi Shodhana: nadi = energy channel, shodhana = to cleanse, purify. Purifying the channels by alternating the inhalation and exhalation through the right and left nostril, thus influencing the ida and pingala nadis and the two hemispheres of the brain – again finding balance between the two sides.
Build your playlist by starting off quiet and building up to a peak song for the peak pose (e.g. Sound of Silence by Disturbed), then gradually slowing down to pure silence for savasana.
“Pranayama is to the nervous system what the physical asana practice is to the musculoskeletal system.” – Aadil Palkhival
- Tadasana/Mountain Pose
- Vriksasana/Tree Pose and Parsva Vriksasana/Side Tree
- Peak pose: Tulasana/Scale Pose or Utthita padmasana/raised lotus pose – arm balance, core
o Preparatory poses: lotus, ardha matsyendrasana, virasana, baddha konasana, garudasana and janusirsasana
o Follow up pose: kukkutasana (arms weave inside the legs, then go up)
Written by Serra Wobbema