The Yoga of Balance

When I first started practicing yoga, I noticed two things. First, I loved balancing poses. And the second? They require a particular kind of grounding.

To start with, any time we have a lot of internal stuff going on, like distracting thoughts (whether they be warm and fuzzy thoughts, like a new crush, or the debilitating thoughts that come with loss), self-criticism, or comparing mind, balancing can seem a lot harder. Just as centering is needed to focus on a task or calm a racing mind, grounding techniques are requisite for balancing. After all, you must get grounded before you can fly.

Grounding, of course, begins in the feet. But it’s more than that. We firm up the muscles in the legs, hugging them inward toward the bones, balancing joints over joints, holding our center of gravity lower, deep within the belly.

Yet, simultaneously, as a product of grounding, we pull up from the arches, through the inseam of the legs, freeing the spine and upper body to ascend from the strength created in the roots. A dynamic paradoxical tension: drawing downward and extending up all at once.

Of course, this dynamic isn’t only present in standing balances. Arm balances and inversions use this paradox as well. Always grounding and lifting, lifting and grounding with internal micro-adjustments.

What is fantastic about the mind-body connection is that it appears to be a two-way street. Feeling balanced in thought and emotion may lead to easier balancing postures. But the reverse is also true. Practicing balancing postures can lead to a more balanced mind.

Try this practice on your own the next time you feel a bit off or restless:

  1. With bare feet, find a solid tadasana (mountain pose). Bring your awareness to the soles of the feet, feeling the four corners of both feet equally, as well as your toes. If your mind wanders, gently guide it back to the soles of the feet.
  2. After a few moments (you’ll sense when the time is right), bring your attention to your legs and ground them as well. Hug the muscles in toward the bones (don’t tense) and balance the knees over the ankles, the hips over the knees. Center yourself right in your pelvic bowl. Take a moment to notice the stability in your body and whatever else shows up. Notice if your mind feels less jumpy.
  3. Now, imagine you could draw energy up through the arches of your feet, along the inner seams of your legs, sucking it into the groin as you lift the pelvic floor. Now you have tapped into the lifting power of grounding.
  4. When you are ready, move into the standing balance of your choice. See if you can resist becoming distracted by the movement of the upper body and stay firm in your roots.
  5. Notice how the grounding helps with the extension creating dynamic tension. Can you hold both of these opposing states in your body simultaneously? Can you find the space to do the same with your thoughts and emotions?