All too often we live as if on an emotional see-saw, tipping from high to low, from joy to disappointment, from one extreme to the other. In this See-Saw existence, happiness is fleeting and quickly changes to unhappiness. When we find balance there is ease, there is equanimity, there is a very natural happiness. The seesawing ceases or, at least becomes a gentle movement where we remain close to the centre, where we can retrieve the balance more easily. This is the aim of Yoga.
The practice of Yoga should be a way of developing our capacity to find balance. It requires subtle awareness and keen observation. We need to be sensitive, and to be sensitive, we need to refine ourselves through practice so that our feeling for balance becomes dependable. This we can do through the Ashtanga Yoga system. This means not just yogasana, but the other limbs also. The principles of yama and niyama are essential to balance; pranayama and the other limbs are all equally vital. A complete Yoga practice has to be comprised of all eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga in the appropriate balance to each other, and all with no element of excess or attachment.
The fourth yama, Bramhacharya means to live in moderation. It means to move through life with a constant connection to the Divine, thereby living in a non-excessive way. This is key to finding happiness. In the Bhagavad Gita we are told:
natyashnatas tu yogo’sti na caikantam anashnatah
na catisvapnashilasya jagrato naiva carjuna
yuktaharaviharasya yuktacheshtasya karmasu
yuktasvapnavabodhasya yogo bhavati duhkhaha BG 6:16,17.
Yoga is never possible, Arjuna, for one who eats too much or too little,
Nor for one who sleeps too much or too little.
But for those who are balanced in eating and in recreation, in work
And in sleeping and wakefulness, yoga can remove all suffering. BG 6:16,17.
What this tells us is that extremes of any sort are incompatible with Yoga. Through our practice we should find that we become more regulated in every way. We should experience better health, more awareness, greater compassion and more joyfulness in our lives. These, not just flexibility or strength in an asana, are the real signs of correct practice.
The key to balance in asana is the breath. Steady, even and stress free breathing means there will be a steadiness of awareness. There will be a balance of effort and relaxation in the body and the mind will be calm. Then we can feel correctly what is appropriate, making practice comfortable.
Any excess of effort brings tension, resulting in uneven breath and a disturbed mind. The balance is lost and the results will not be the desired ease and happiness. Students often are too hard on themselves, believing they must try harder or do more. What is really important is not more or harder, but the quality of how we practice. Regularly, with devotion and without expectation is the key.
We need to monitor ourselves, checking that we are not veering inadvertently to one extreme or the other. We should enjoy our practice and look forward to it, but it should not be an end in itself nor become another thing we are attached to. We should experience that life becomes easier and more enjoyable. Stress reduces and we are naturally more moderate. Any negative impact on health or sleep, any increase in anxiety or irritability, is a sign that we are not finding the balance. Then we must step back and remind ourselves of why we started practising in the first place, and begin again to inch towards the middle of the See-Saw. Namaste, David.