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Striking a Balance

The word balance has been coming to mind recently. As we approach the Autumn Equinox -- the balance point between the light and dark -- this word seems exceptionally relevant. But what does it actually mean? Practically?

When I contemplate on my own path, I can observe times in my life where I was incredibly OUT of balance. I think back to when I was a weightlifter. I thought I was in such "good shape"! But the reality was, I was very imbalanced. The imbalances in my body led to imbalances in my life and various different manifestations. It must be stated that if there are imbalances in our bodymind, there will be a direct result of this in our lives. This seems obvious but many people seem to turn a blind eye to this reality. I think that maybe it is difficult to admit to ourselves our faults and course correct. Sometimes it is easier to keep doing something in a way that is imbalanced that strive for balance. At least, it was this way for me.

This makes me think of nature. There are summer months in Phoenix, Arizona, where I've felt the incredible heat of the sun bearing down on that toasted piece of earth. The temperature in July & August in Phoenix is simply unbearable. For those who have experienced this, know what I'm talking about. Is this imbalanced? Perhaps, but it is that way... and it is part of a greater cycle. Come November when the crisp fall air is keeping warm days and cool nights with beautiful clear skies, Arizona residents are reminded why they stick around when everyone else is buried in snow. Everything is in balance.

When it comes to spiritual practice, which many of my readers are engaged in, the same can be said. Are there times in our lives when we are in a particularly "drying" or "hot" period of effort? Times where we end up bored with the work we are doing, wondering if we are making any progress, finding ourselves fantasizing about the cooler and fresher seasons to come? Sadhana has waves to it. There are moments where I am simply plugging away at the same techniques I've been using for years -- sometimes my mind is going crazy -- and the "heat" of this process becomes unbearable. In Sanskrit the word for the "heat of effort" is tapas. When one is deliberately engaged in a period of effort meant to transform their consciousness, we call this tapasya; or, a person who is engaged in intense sadhana may be referred to as a tapasvin. There are great stories of sages and yogis who spent decades in a cave perfecting their meditations -- these are examples of great spiritual effort to purify the bodymind and reach the enlightened states of supreme tranquility and peace spoken of across the ages. But is this balanced?

What is balance? How do we strike it? Where in our lives are we imbalanced?

A friend of mine was asking me questions the other day about my practices. When these sorts of questions come to me, I am always curious about where the question is coming from. What is the person hoping to gain through their questions? Do they have a sincere interest in applying what they might learn from my share, or are they simply curious? Depending on where a question arises from, the answer may vary. I try not to spend to much time or energy on dead-ends -- I realized my mistake of doing this early on in my teaching days when I would share with everyone and everything about yoga. However, as Jesus taught, "do not cast pearls before swine". The meaning of this Biblical quote is to conserve energy for the fertile ground in which that energy can truly land. The same can be said for us about striking balance. There may be times in our lives where our energy might rightfully be leveraged at bringing us into imbalance, so that the pendulum can swing back when the time is appropriate. Like a hot summer month. There may be times where our sadhana is particularly intense, bringing us through some serious tapasya meant to purify us and break us through to the next stage of our evolutionary journey... then, we cruise at the required altitude for a time.

However, in the midst of all of this, the give-and-take, the summer-and-winter, the hot-and-cold... what is the middle point? What is the balance?

In Hatha Yoga, the science of transformation through body-mind-breath practices, there is the concept of the Ida and Pingala nadis. These are the two primary energy currents running parallel to each other in a twisting fashion up the spine; birthing like springs at the base of the tailbone and flowing upward to join together at the third eye, criss-crossing and intersecting at various junctures along the central column to create the vortices known as chakras. These currents reflect the solar and lunar energies in Man. There is an outgoing extroverted solar current, known as Pingala, and there is an incoming receptive lunar current, known as Ida. When these two currents are balanced in the human organism it is said that the central nadi, the Sushumna, opens up and thus the pathway for the Kundalini energy to ascend. This Kundalini energy represents transformation of human consciousness -- the change from one state to another, higher state. All spiritual traditions that create change to consciousness are working with these mechanics as these exist in the subtle physiology of the human organism. This is merely a framework or a map to understand what is happening "under the hood". Why this is important is this is the concept of balance that must be understood.

When one is neither is complete passivity nor in excessive grasping, there is a balance point, a poise, an equilibrium which begets a favorable movement of energy. Neither pushing nor resisting. Open, receptive, dynamic, alive, response. Balanced. Ready to move one way or another, depending on what the environment dictates. The position of one's mind is reflective of this state. When we hold too tightly to an idea, we can only move in one direction -- towards that idea. This may serve a purpose, for a time. But if we remain rigid on that idea, we remain closed to alternatives. The same could be said for if we fail to take a stance or position. Without claiming our knowledge -- i.e, what we know now in this moment -- we may be stuck in inaction. We cannot move without taking some side. However, as soon as we move, we must be able to let go again and become empty. This is a rapid adjustment and atunement process. We take a step, we get feedback, and we course correct. Constantly.

While we are practicing yoga sadhana, this effort looks like a simultaneous push-and-pull. In the body, where are expanding? Where are contracting? Can we balance these two forces? Oftentimes when people are starting out, there is an over-effort in male bodies and an under-effort in female bodies. Female bodies tend to possess a greater degree of flexible tissue than male bodies -- this makes it possible for female bodies to "get into shapes easier" than the male bodies. However, neither of these extremes is what we ought to be striving for. Generally speaking, the female bodies who are overly flexible need to focus on grounding their energy inwardly and hugging their muscles to their bones, breathing with just a little more heat to generate a little more force in their energy body ... whilst male bodies who are usually over active, forcibly "penetrating" their practice with their efforts need to focus on relaxation, softening the edges, gently drawing the breath and remaining open in this center. These are generalities but with enough time and practice, with attention to these principles, the ideas start to "land" in the body and make sense. The result? Females who balance their "yang" energy and males who balance their "yin" energy. Women who aren't afraid to claim their ground and men who aren't afraid to be humble, so to speak. Again, this is an over generalization but this is just one example to illustrate this idea of balance.

I think, by and large, most people are living in an imbalanced state. There are many repercussions to this. The consequences of being imbalanced internally absolutely manifests into our lives in every little way imaginable. This doesn't mean nothing can be done. However, it DOES mean that we ought to be considering this and taking steps to course correct. Striving for a state of balance both within and without is the path of Yoga. Equilibrium means energy can flow where it needs to go, when it needs to go there and in-however-much it needs to flow. This can be mean fiery action when and where needed, or the opposite -- complete and utter relaxation and receptivity, even in the face of drama.

Imagine what it would be like if we could turn on or off as needed? If we could generate the summer heat even in the depth the cold? These are metaphors but they paint the picture.

Balance. Neither too much of one or too little of the other. Equal parts and in equal measure. Light and dark co-exist as important sides of the same coin of life.

May your transition into fall be a sweet one.

Keep practicing.

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