Yoga - A Fine Balance
by Shameem Akthar
Yoga's balancing poses purify, beautify and strengthen your mind to keep pace with the body.
The most exotic aspect of yogic asanas are the balancing poses. They attract the adventurous and put off the timid. But interestingly, these lovely creations of our ancient Indian yogis help both personality types. Therefore, they must necessarily form part of any yogic sadhana.
They calm and ground the hyperactive, adventurous (rajasic) type of persons. Intriguingly, they also extrovert the shy (tamasic) persons by infusing the thrill of achievement, helping them lose their self-consciousness and nervousness. How can such divergent impacts be achieved by the same practice? This happens because balancing poses do not just involve the body, but completely engage the mind. They are the most powerful nerve-strengtheners.
Try this simple practice. Stand on one-foot (ekpada pranamasana or one-legged prayer pose). You can do this if you have retained mental youthfulness. But you really have not aged mentally (never mind what your chronological age reads on your birth certificate!), if you can stand on one foot and shut your eyes. Most of us cannot do this. The moment you shut your eyes, you will totter and fall. This is because we have allowed certain key players in our nervous system to deteriorate.
These players include nerve connections, the cerebellum (involved with balancing), and the balancing mechanism of the inner ear. Which is why you will find that several youngsters feel dizzy if they bend forward or backward suddenly, suffering a mild form of vertigo. This impacts not just our body, but also our nerves. All these get strengthened back to their original state through yogic practices, including the simple triangle. This pose, though ostensibly a standing twist, also engages the body's balance. That is why, as you intensify your practice, you will find your limbs or yourself shaking, or feel as if you are falling. Surpassing this feebleness will seal the cracks in your mind-body system. In yoga, this challenge to balance becomes acute only when you intensify your practice.
There are several standing balancers. But equally thrilling are the other balancing poses like the bakasana (crane), including all its extremely challenging variations, mayurasana (peacock), and its numerous exciting variations, vrichasana (scorpion), vrkasana (handstand), Vishwamitrasana (sage Vishwamitra's pose), pada angushtasana (tiptoe pose), Vashishthasana (sage Vashishtha's pose), santolanasana (balancing pose), merudanda (spine pose), ekpada bakasana (one-legged crane), Natrajasana (dancing Shiva), garudasana (eagle), and many, many others.
Most of these are not ostensibly balancing poses. For instance, in the advanced santolanasana, you are testing the strength of your wrist by resting your entire body weight on it. Even so, unless your nervous system's balancing mechanism is intact, you will not be able to hold this pose, however strong you are. That is why several hunks with steroidal muscles will usually fall in such poses, because the mental equipoise required to hold them is missing! This may explain also why, when you build your muscles with aggressive gym regimen or hormonal or supplementary and artificial muscle-enhancers, you tend to lose your temper without control or become depressed without reason. The mind is not providing the support you deserve.
Yoga's balancing element purifies, beautifies and strengthens your mind to keep pace with the body and vice versa. So, even as your body is getting toned and beautified by these poses, the maximum benefit is accrued by the mind.
Even yoga practitioners who disregard balancing poses will find their body-mind connection wobbly. For instance, there are several yoga practitioners who will focus on some more exotic aspects of yoga - but neglect the balancing poses because the initial part of the balancing pose is easily achieved so they get bored with them. But what separates the grain from the chaff (and a steady practitioner from a cosmetic one), is the person's ability to hold these balancing poses for long, without tottering or falling.
So, when you start your yoga practice make sure you include balancers. Start with learning to hold the poses correctly. But later, as you advance in practice, increase the time in the balancers to at least one minute, slowly increasing the period to two minutes in the more easy ones.
This inclusion will help you expand your personality, colouring it with shades that you missed out till now and help you discover new aspects of yourself. Also, balancers will make you youthful again. They will rejuvenate your nerves, build confidence, mental focus and concentration. They are also known to, therefore, enhance memory power. They will help you remain calm when everybody around is flipping their lid. They improve brain and limb coordination.
Best of all, they infuse you with a sense of playfulness. Most people give up their yoga practice because this element is missing in their personal practice. But balancing poses help you retain this fun element not just in your sadhana but in your entire life as well. You will rediscover interests which you have allowed to rust and people will enjoy being around you!
Nataraj or Dancing Shiva Pose:
The Nataraj or dancer pose must be attempted only after adequate experience, such as an ability to hold the ekpada asana or one-legged pose for long. Stand straight. Bend right knee, grasp right ankle with right hand behind body. Point left arm in front, gaze at the left hand steadily. This is the basic pose. Learn to hold this steadily before advancing. To deepen the dancer pose, raise and stretch the right leg backwards while leaning forward to maximize this stretch. Keep your eyes on your point of focus, ideally your left hand. Lower leg and arm, relax before repeating with the other leg. Apart from strengthening the legs, this pose, like all balancing asanas, improves concentration.