By Angela Hale, Firefly-trained yoga teacher and guest blogger for fireflyyoga.org.
It’s a helluva time to be human, isn’t it? We’re living in a period of radical transition. There are days (months!) when the world shifts right out from under my feet, like sand on the beach washing out to sea. It’s wild, and beautiful, and at times utterly disorienting — riding these energetic and emotional tides can feel, frankly, like being tossed about by colossal waves, periodically pulled under, holding my breath and praying for a break to find my bearings. How do we live when we don’t even know which way is up? How do we come into balance in perpetual ebb and flow?
balance |ˈbaləns| (noun):
an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady:slipping in the mud but keeping their balance | she lost her balance before falling.
When we talk about balance in the context of yoga, people often envision holding a perfectly picturesque dancer or a deeply rooted tree pose… but trembles and falls don’t usually happen when we’re standing still and steady in an anchored position. Rather, we wobble in motion as we shift and transition.
There’s no difference, really, between yoga and life. One way or another, aren’t we always in flux? The tide comes in, the tide goes out, the tide comes in, the tide goes out.
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds' wings.” (Rumi)
The path to building balance and coordination, then, is by way of mastering these transitions, developing our own power, and coming to know that (even as we sway) we are held by something greater than ourselves. It’s the difference between fighting the waves and floundering about until we’re totally exhausted, or trusting our own buoyancy and resilience and the rhythm of the water to float us to its sparkling surface.
Balance is not a perfectly weighted scale. It’s an exquisite dance. A surrender to grace. Whether on or off the mat, balance is a moment-to-moment practice of continually noticing — where we are in space, the truth about our emotional experience, the pattern of our thoughts, the tempo of our lives — and then, when out of balance, finding the breath, feeling the body, resetting the mind, and returning to center. Over and over again. Wave, after wave, after wave.
"Yoga is a balancing factor, a substratum across all of your life, so you do not get shifted in one direction or another. It gives you freshness, gives you light, recharges your batteries. You become a stable person. You realize what balance is, what sukha is, what contentment is, what joy is.” (Birjoo Mehta)
I discovered this for myself nearly ten years ago, when I was just beginning the long road of recovery from a traumatic brain injury. I’d been blindsided, literally, by the corner of the wall that separated my stove from my breakfast nook as it met my skull and knocked me back five feet to the kitchen floor, and figuratively, as this unforeseen passage was not how I had imagined setting sail into my post-collegiate life. I was as off-kilter as I had ever been — an injured brain gives itself entirely to its own healing, and being emotionally well-balanced is very, very low on its list of priorities. I remember lying in bed one evening while my mother, who had flown in from out of state to be with me, washed dishes on the other side of the wall. I reflected on how grateful I was for her love and support, for our close and trusting relationship, and for the circumstances that allowed her to telecommute from my tiny apartment. Simultaneously, I wanted to kill her. Or myself. Or perhaps just burn down the apartment. My brain screeched, “WHY THE F* IS SHE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE AND WHY WON’T SHE JUST STOP?!?!” In those first months, I was uncharacteristically emotionally volatile, constantly cognitively and sensorially overwhelmed, and totally exhausted. I struggled to make sense of it all - why had this happened? How would I ever survive when I couldn’t seem to get through the tiniest challenges or simplest days without a meltdown? Who were these seemingly disparate people living inside my mind and my heart? I was desperate. I was drowning.
… And then I found my way into a yoga studio. I experienced more meaningful recovery in those first two weeks on my mat than I had in two months of physical, cognitive, and talk therapy. My doctors forbade any inversions, including the standard downward-dog, but with the support of my teachers and a whole lot of patience and salty tears, I made it work. I stopped fighting the torrent of thoughts and feelings, surrendered, and set out to meet myself with tender curiosity, and extraordinary compassion and courage, exactly where I was at. I gave myself — body, mind, and spirit — to floating. As I learned the art of being in flow, my wobbles waned, my stormy thoughts slowed, and my emotional tide became more even and gentle. In my practice, I found stillness. I found center. I found my way home to myself. I rose to the surface, and breathed (really breathed) for what felt like the first time.
Yoga - the spiritual, physical, and philosophical practice - is a powerful channel for connecting to the center of the self. It’s a method of deep inquiry, and of learning to meet ourselves (in moments of stillness and moments of struggle alike) with curiosity, compassion, and courage. It’s a perfect mirror of our lives, and what it means to choose tenderness and grace and love as we are adrift in this ever-changing, watery world.
So what might it be like to release resistance to the motion of the ocean and touch the truth of that tender heart of yours? To stay soft, let yourself be moved, and return to breath? To greet the body, mind, and spirit among the waves, with all the love you can muster? To ask yourself, with earnest curiosity: where am I carried now, and what is the dance of balance in this moment? In my own little raft, this practice has brought me peace, freedom, and ease as I rise with the swell, fall, and rise again. And again. And again.
Angela Hale is a writer, spiritual mentor, yoga teacher, and energy healer. She believes that every person is inherently worthy and capable of living with every ounce of their being - whole, wild, and free. You can walk this walk with her on Facebook at Whole, Wild & Free and subscribe to her newsletter here to stay up to date on her latest adventures and offerings. Angela Hale participated in the Firefly Training in trauma-informed yoga in San Francisco, CA in 2016, and is a guest blogger for Firefly Yoga International.