I recently taught a Pain Care Collective Build class where for each one of the poses, we practiced an affirmation. The one pose that reaffirmed that I too need balance was Tree Pose. As I guided the students through this pose, my wobbly legs felt like they had just spent a month on a sail boat. Steadiness was what I sought, but didn’t quite have.
Nowhere does it seem more important to foster balance, than in this month of the changeover of seasons from winter to spring (for those in the northern hemisphere). We have compiled 5 yoga tools to help you bring balance into your life and maybe even change or reduce your pain. Each one of these tools can help reduce the stress response, leading to the brain perceiving more cues of safety from the body. Try one or try them all and discover which ones will go in your toolbox.
Often, when we think of using breath therapeutically, it's not uncommon to think that our goal is to soften the breath in order to reap its benefits. But, that isn't always the case. In yoga, we often look to support returning to sattva (balance) in order to cultivate deeper states of practice (and healing!). But, that means, depending on where we start, we might need to take different paths to get there. We can use breath to calm our energy, but we can also use breath to lift it!
This is why I truly love the practice of balanced breathing*. Balanced breathing, inspired by Christine Caldwell, asks us to tune into the subtle shifts that occur throughout the cycle of the breath and then gently guides us to lean into the part of the breath that supports us most in that moment. Practicing balanced breathing regularly helps us build a tool for returning to balance day to day, moment to moment, and is a good reminder that finding balance does not always take the same path.
2. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)*
Our nostrils cycle through breathing predominantly through one nostril or the other throughout the day. And sometimes, one nostril may become congested, the breath not as full arousing a sympathetic response in the nervous system and possibly painful sensations. One of the practices to balance and reduce pain is with the technique, Alternate Nostril Breathing. The mind and body become calmer as the nasal airways open. This technique can be done in a few ways which also makes it versatile and easy to access.
Lowering our stress response allows the mind to sense and feel safety from our body. Blood pressure lowers and heart rate evens out as the amount of cortisol in our body decreases. There are many YouTube videos out there demonstrating this breathing practice. In our On-demand library, we have a short video on this breath*. Explore the many ways that this breath can be practiced.
3. Chanting Sa-Ta-Na-Ma
Sound and vibration have always been an important tool for yogis for healing. This particular mantra of Sa-Ta-Na-Ma is very helpful for transforming your pain, calming you and bringing a sense of balance. When we have a lot going on and our minds are a reflection of these busy times, we may feel off-centered and unfocused. This kirtan kriya practice supports focus and concentration. These sounds are repeated with particular mudras and can be practiced for a few minutes each day or longer.
Here is an audio recording found on YouTube which takes you through about a 12 minute practice moving between chanting out loud, to a whisper and silently chanting to yourself. This can be done seated, lying down or standing. The gestures are as follows ( both hands):
SA - thumbs touch index fingers
TA - thumbs touch middle fingers
NA - thumbs touch ring fingers
MA - thumbs touch little fingers
Meanings of the Chant
SA - Infinite and source of this universe
TA - Life or Birth
NA - Transformation of form
MA - Rebirth
4. Yoga Philosophy of Steadiness - Sthira Sukham Asanam
One of the reasons that we do yoga is to cultivate ease even while our external and internal environments may be chaotic. Concepts like sthira and sukham (sutra 2.46), from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a collection of 196 Sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga, remind us that “Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.”
Theoretically, understanding these concepts may be easy Applying the concepts to your yoga practice and your life is where the practice lies. Our Pop-up class this month really demonstrates these two concepts as we alternate between effort and respite.
All within mere seconds of each other, we may experience thoughts, emotions, sensations that swing like a pendulum. This may happen in a yoga pose, while driving or even when you are trying to sleep. Reminding yourself of these concepts can take the form of a mantra, repeating “sthira sukham” over and over again while in any activity.
5. A Balance Pose - Tree
Tree Pose (Vrksasana) can be daunting for many, but one thing that I love about this pose is that there are so many versions of it, making it quite accessible. And it can be incorporated so easily in daily life.
A tree is both strong and well grounded with its roots extending down and spreading wide in the earth, as well as lifted, growing upwards towards the sky. The trunk like a calm river running from earth to sky. Tree pose requires both of the conditions of Sthira sukham (steadiness and comfort),
Just like nourishment that a tree gets from both the ground and the sky, when in this pose, your vital energy is flowing in both directions. But what if standing on one leg is not a practice for you? Tree pose can be practiced lying on the ground, in your bed, or seated in a chair. However you practice it, bring an image of yourself as this tree. One where you can draw on your strength and stability while still at ease, to enhance this practice.
*To try out these practices, sign-up for a two week free trial or get your monthly or annual membership here