Gradually emerging out of winter, we approach that pivotal point on the calendar – the Vernal Equinox (i.e., the first day of spring). Slowly, afternoons begin to stretch into evening time, as the daylight waxes. Light and dark become equal for a moment on March 20th, and the days continue to lengthen up until summer.
All winter, we snuggled up tight in our beds or cuddled by a warm fire, reading books or sipping a hot drink, and although we may have made an occasional jaunt out to the ski slopes or the ice rink (and to yoga class), we’ve probably spent more time on inward activities. Perhaps you took up journaling, meditation, or some hobby that you don’t often explore during the more active time of year. And, hopefully, you kept the fires stoked through your yoga practice at home, even during the blizzards or rainstorms outside.
At the advent of spring, we revisit the concept of balance, especially in the physical body and our outer life. There are so many ways that we strive to balance our lives: between activity and rest, work and play, connecting with others and time for ourselves, outward activities versus inward reflection, etc.
Observe how balanced you are between your right and left sides of the body. How often do you use your non-dominant hand for regular activities? What does it feel like when you do? Have you noticed your body being a little off-balance from overuse of one side? Shift some of your daily activities to your non-dominant hand (or even leg!) and notice the changes in your body, but also the new perspective a less-skilled hand brings to each task.
Balance in the mind
It’s easy to imagine how to bring equilibrium to the body, but how about balance in the mind? Do we allow our minds periods of activity and rest, or do we tend to overdo one or the other? Meditation is an excellent way to give the mind – and body – conscious rest. If meditation seems intimidating, simply watch the breath. The mind fatigues from focusing on one type of activity for too long, like writing or working on your taxes, so a few minutes of simple breath awareness is a welcome break.
Make sure you also refresh yourself with exercise or time outdoors, in order to keep the mind and body in happy harmony. Shifting from the internal focus of winter, let yourself explore outwardly again – step into nature, take a hike, go for a jog, and somersault on the lawn. Take a drive out into the country, up to the mountains, or down to the ocean. Breathe in the crisp, fresh air, touch the cool morning dew on the grass (or the softening snow over it), and let every cell be revitalized.
Keys to balance
Yoga practice includes a wide variety of balancing poses, which teach us not only how to create physical stability, but also how to steady the mind in a variety of situations. Whether you’re a balancing on one leg, your hands, or on top of your head, there are four basic keys to staying steady.
First, connect to the earth, like forming the roots that stabilize a tree, from your center in your belly through whatever is in contact with the earth. In arm balances, that would be from the abdomen and heart down the arms, through the hands, pressing into the floor. Root the perimeter of the palm in particular, while allowing the palm’s center to be relaxed. For standing balance poses, connect from the lower belly down the length of the standing leg. Open the toes, and feel the ball of the foot and the heel press down.
Then, create a lift in the arches and ankles that carries up through the spine and torso, up to the crown of the head. This second aspect, rising up, responds to rooting down. It draws you back into your center in the belly, usually by engaging bandhas such as Uddiyana Bandha (the abdominal lock), and brings lightness.
Third, steady the breath. When the breath is choppy, short, or a struggle, so will your balance be. Focus on deep, long, smooth, and steady inhalations and exhalations. Keep the breath consistent through your practice
Lastly, steady the mind. This involves stilling the eyes (known as Drishti, or a soft, steady gaze) as well as reigning in distracting thoughts. If the mind is worried about falling, you likely will. If you’re looking at someone else, you’re apt to tumble over like a domino if they do. Therefore, focus the mind’s attention on steadiness and affirm it – I am steady, strong, and balanced. When the mind is calm, stillness and balance follow suit.
Equilibrium is an active process
True balance isn’t static – it’s an active process of moving gently back and forth between different activities, different sides of the body, different perspectives. Consider walking. We step one foot forward, then shift to the other foot as it steps forward. If you follow the movements, you actually zig-zag back and forth. Yet the result is moving straight ahead.
Therefore, when the mind fluctuates throughout your day, find the center within that is quiet and peaceful around which those fluctuations whirl. This creates the inner steadiness which keeps you in balance, whether in Tree Pose, cooking dinner, or doing your taxes. When you find your inner equilibrium, even if you topple over in Half Moon pose or blow up at your neighbor, you’ll more easily find your steadiness again.
Explore the new
After this point of balance at the spring equinox, consider where you’re shifting towards. Now, we emerge from the time of inward reflection and rest to bounding out into the world! The coming weeks will bring forth a renewed energy and vitality you may not have felt for several months. Spring is about birth – let the new come forth.
Give birth to this new energy, like a chick hatching from an egg, in all aspects of your life. What have you been longing to explore all winter long? What new project did you envision through the dark time that you’d like to embark upon? It’s time to take those first steps out into your goals and dreams for the outwardly-active time of year. Just like baby bunnies, your first hops will be small and you may falter a bit. But enjoy stretching yourself in new ways, both physically and mentally, and follow the increasing energy of spring – it will lead you down the road of growth and transformation.
Copyright © 2002, 2013 by Rev. Connie L. Habash