“The path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” ~William Blake
“We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between it is all a matter of balance.“ ~Paul Boese
“It don’t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that swing).” ~Duke Ellington
From the moment we’re out of the womb, we dance with balance. First it’s our head, then crawling, standing….and soon it’s our checkbooks. It seeps into every aspect of our lives and soon becomes THE ISSUE. Google “Balance” and you find an infinite array of posts extolling the importance of balance in everything from diet to tennis. Consensus: balance is good but most of us feel we’re lacking.
The ancient art of Yoga recognized this need over 6,000 years ago. Doshas, gunas, chakras are all attempts to find balance. Lord Shiva, arguably the most important of the Hindu Triumvirate, clearly represents balance as he continuously recreates the cyclic process of creation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. He is the destroyer but thus the catalyst for restoration. Yoga’s theme of balance is also seen in the concepts of Yin and Yang, Ha and Tha, Ida and Pingala, Sukha and Sthirra.
Our own elegant physiology also reflects the importance of balance. Every move we make, every breath we take is a biological drive towards homeostasis, equanimity. Merge the principles of yoga and our physiology as you look at ideas like Ahimsa and our reflexes, “you get more when you force less,” parasympathetic system balancing the sympathetic system. Sukha and Sthirra and the permeability of the cell membrane. It’s all there in our DNA.
And then there’s Physics where we learn that stability is the ability of a body to restore its balance after a disturbance. And the quality of the stability is determined by how large a disturbance the body can withstand before the balance is lost. A body that is precariously balanced can withstand only a small disturbance and so has low stability. A body that is solidly balanced can be disturbed greatly and so has high stability. In yoga we use the concepts of stability in all of our poses as we seek the balance of ease (sukha) and steadiness (sthirra).
Perhaps the most interesting example of the relationship of balance and yoga is our mental state. We crave, we cling, we fear, we exalt, we love and we hate. Siddhartha went to both extremes and came out with “The Middle Way”; balance….much like a pendulum swinging from side to side till it rests in the middle. Our wins are great, but do not define us. Nor do our losses. The Bhagavad Gita says, “The temporary appearance of happiness and distress and their disappearance over time are like the coming and going of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed,” (Chapter 2, Verse 14). A few verses later, “Be steadfast in Yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty without attachment, remaining equal to success or failure. Such equanimity of mind is yoga.”
After an unproductive search through my usual Sanskrit sources to find the perfect word for Balance, I asked Lorin Roche (author of the Radiance Sutras) and he suggested, Tula. Most of us recognize this as the asana Tolasana, Pendulum or Scale Pose. Indeed, one feels like a pendulum as we swing back and forward till we find the balance between. Most likely just for a moment….like perched on the crest of the wave, but it’s there. And it’s the play of of the pendulum, the dance with finding the edge, risking the fall that does it.
As William Blake said, sometimes we do need to taste the swings before we find the balance between. We never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough. Too much backward, too much forward…and then for a moment, suspension. The key is to do the work. To bring an attitude of playfulness and non-judgement. To try, to notice, to learn. That’s the practice, that’s life. It’s all about the swing.