True balance is an inner journey toward control of breath, mind

Jade Skinner demonstrates Utthita Ardha Dhanurasana (Standing Half Bow Balance).

Photo courtesy of Jade Skinner

Jade Skinner demonstrates Utthita Ardha Dhanurasana (Standing Half Bow Balance).

When my students are on their yoga mats going from one pose to the next, I remind them not to get too caught up in where they are going.

It's not about the beginning or the end of a pose, I tell them, but the journey itself.

In the same way, balance is an exploration, not a destination.

The art of balancing is more complex than just standing on one leg and trying not to fall over. It's about tuning inward, focusing the mind and controlling the breath.

Yoga students quickly discover that balance poses are both physical and mental exercises. Physical balance can be quite challenging, even leaving us in a mental tangle when we cannot maintain it. The trouble comes when we fight our bodies and our minds, turning the search for balance into a battle we can't win.

Tuning inward by listening, feeling and responding to your body will prevent you from tipping over — in yoga and in life. Remember, it's a journey; keep adjusting and correcting as you go.

Strike a pose

The pose I'm demonstrating here is called Utthita Ardha Dhanurasana (Standing Half Bow Balance). It's a good intermediate pose, allowing you to explore balance while also building strength.

If you are new to yoga, start with a simple Tree Pose. Stand tall, and place one foot flat against the inside of the opposite ankle, balancing on the standing leg. When you feel stable, try moving the foot higher up on the leg, but never place it against the knee joint.

Start with your arms at your sides, then try pressing your hands together in a prayer position in front of your heart. When that's easy, raise your hands above your head, stretching tall like a tree.

Keep the pose

Balance is all about staying in the present. If you focus your thoughts, you can break through any barriers holding you back from finding that peaceful place of harmony.

If that sounds pretty abstract, here's a concrete way to start: Look straight ahead, find something to focus on, and keep your eyes fixed on that point. If you've never tried it, you'll be amazed at what an effective tool this is for keeping your balance. You may also be amazed at how quickly you lose your balance when you lose that focus.

Keeping your attention on that one point, practice shutting off the outside world and bring your awareness to the present moment.

Just breathe

Breathing is the most important element in finding balance.

How we live is how we breathe. Think about it: If you are stressed, always on the go, you're probably not thinking about breathing.

Whether you are trying a balance pose, or just sitting quietly, listen to your breath. Feel the rise and fall of the chest. Notice how much your rib cage expands. Are you breathing fast, slow, shallow, deep?

Many of us hold our breath when we're facing a challenge, and we don't even realize it. But holding the breath causes distraction as well as disconnection, making it impossible to keep your balance.

When you start connecting your breath with your movements, you'll begin to find an even greater sense of stability in your balance — in yoga and in life.

Jade Skinner is a St. Petersburg yoga teacher. E-mail her at sacredspaceyoga@mac.com.

True balance is an inner journey toward control of breath, mind 11/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 20, 2009 3:30am]

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