I’ve been practicing yoga for nearly ten years and I’ve been teaching for four. Yet I still still struggle with balancing poses: tree (vrksasana), dancer (nararajasana), warrior 3 (virabhadrasana). It’s especially embarrassing when I’m teaching because yoga teachers are supposed to know how to balance, right? As I start to go into one of these poses, the voices in my head start speaking: Why can’t you get this? What’s wrong with you? What will your students think? You’re never going to get this. You must be a person who’s just always off-balance.
Of course,that’s the first problem: I’m in my head instead of my body.
At first, when I began teaching, I didn’t even teach balancing poses because I was so embarrassed. But I kept practicing and, for some time, I’ve teaching balancing but I simply use a wall for support. I think that’s called humility.
The other day, I was taking a yoga class, we were practicing tree (or I was trying to), and the teacher said: “The secret to tree is to keep your knee springy.” I noticed that my standing leg was tense, my knee was locked, I was pushing into the floor for dear life. I softened my knee and pushed gently into the floor and, viola, I was effortlessly balancing!
Now, I’m guessing I’ve heard this cue many times before, in different words. In my own classes, I’ve said: Yield into the earth, soften the knee, breathe, ease into the pose. Yet, that day I was able to really hear the cue and, even more important, to feel it in my body.
My struggle with balance in yoga has made me think of how easy it is for something or someone in my life to put me off balance. Recently, I said something to someone and she immediately and abruptly, without letting my finish, said I was wrong. In a flash, I was in this not unfamiliar place of feeling wrong, stupid, young, embarrassed. I know this was completely out of proportion to the event, but it is a childhood place that comes up suddenly and without warning. My reaction, as usual, was to clam up. I was able, a few minutes later, to challenge her and ask for an apology. That is a lot of progress, by the way. I used to just let something like that simmer, decide the person was definitely a bad person and I wouldn’t ever speak to her again.
Of course, again, I was out of my body. It happens so fast, this forgetting to breath, to feel.
That’s what yoga does, of course; it brings me back to my breath and my body, and helps me capture those experiences of balance like I did in tree. And, if I keep practicing, perhaps I will find, more and more, those moments of balance and freedom and joy, both on and off the mat.