In today’s world, the search for balance is like the search for the Holy Grail. Mythical. Impossible. But like the king of the Britons in Monty Python, humanity continues to seek it out. We are all teetering on a precipice. One small tap in any direction and it all comes crumbling down. How do we find the sweet spot in a life that contains family, friends, work, spirituality, health, community, and such? I can’t profess to be an expert by any means, but I can tell you that I have finally found a way to cope with the hugeness of it all. Yoga.
The simple act of holding a pose on a mat a few times a week has provides me with a balance far beyond that which my body control allows. It balances my entire being in ways that stitch me back together as a human and pull me from a life of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I no longer wonder when the scale will tip or what part of my life is drawing the short stick or when I will fall from this cliff edge on which I walk. Instead, I strive for a life of steadiness due to the benefits yoga offers me.
Yoga provides spiritual connection.
I am a believer in God; I am not, however, a believer in church. Soon after I came to the realization that being religious was hampering my spiritual connection, I left organized religion behind. The problem was, the baby went with the bath water. I don’t miss the dirty old water, but I ache for that baby. When I found yoga, I found another way. I connect with God in a meditative manner for an hour three times a week. The relationship is deeper and more meaningful than we have had in years. I know there are those who say that church is important, not just because of a relationship with God, but because it builds connection to people as well. Which brings me to my next point…
Yoga builds community.
There is something to be said for a group of like-minded people coming together as one body. As humans, we have an innate need to be a part of the whole. Some people find that in church; I find it in the yoga studio. We are all there to further ourselves. To meditate. To be more in tune with our bodies. To learn to breathe again. No one is there to judge or harass or compare. When I step into that quiet space, they step alongside me. Together, we bend and twist and find stillness as a community of individuals. We go as deeply into the poses as we can without trying to imitate one another. Encouragement abounds. There is a respect among peers that builds us up. The process purifies; nothing negative remains.
Yoga heals what hurts.
My chiropractor describes my 36 year old back as the back of an 80 year old. And I’m sad to say…it’s an 80 year old with issues. I have an unconquerable degenerative disc disease that I’ve been trying to surmount for five years. I can’t rid myself of it; I can only manage the pain. Desperately, I’ve tried it all: spinal steroid injections, neurosurgeon consultations, massage, strength training, chiropractic manipulation. Nothing has worked. When my chiropractor suggested yoga, I laughed. Out loud. For a while. How am I going to twist into a pretzel if I can’t even bend over and touch my knees? Before yoga, if I dropped something, it became a nightmare of squatting and stretching to try to retrieve it. But a desperate yearning for a normal life pulled at me. Two weeks of captivity in my bed, simply because I dared to sneeze, was no way to live. So I gave in and went to a yoga class. Here’s the shocker…it worked! I have practiced steadily for three months, and I can bend. To the floor, y’all. Like all the way down. My back grows stronger everyday, and I no longer fear every movement I make. As one friend said, staring at me strangely one day, “You don’t walk like a robot anymore.” Nope. I’m fully human again.
Yoga provides a pathway to managing mood.
The body certainly benefits from this practice of strengthening and creating long, lean muscle, but it also changes the mind. Part of a yoga practice is a focus on breath, or pranayama. Yogis believe that each person has a select number of breaths in a lifetime. Once you’ve used them up…you’re done. In a world where everything is hurried, breathing is rushed as well. When on the mat, breath is intentionally slowed, and it becomes the focus. Many may not realize that it holds more importance that the actual poses. If you can’t breathe correctly and hold the pose at the same time (which is deceptively hard in the beginning) then participants are told to just focus on the breath.
What I’ve noticed at this point in my practice is that this slowing of breath has bled over into my day-to-day life. I find myself breathing deeper throughout the day. When I feel unwanted emotions (anger, sadness, fear) creeping in, I find myself resorting to my pranayama without even consciously thinking about it. My lungs don’t huff out tight puffs of uncontrolled air. Instead, I fill them to capacity and slowly release. Along with the air, tension flows out of my body. My mind eases. And if the yogis are correct…my time on earth lengthens as well.
As I master each pose on the mat, I’m mastering the art of being. If yoga doesn’t appeal to you, I challenge you to find what does. What helps you connect? What balances you? What helps you breathe? Find it. Actively participate in it. Leave all of the uncertainty and stress on the mat, or in the pool, or at the ball game. Go in peace on your search for stability atop the shaky ground of life.