Yoga and the Art of Balance

The Laughing Gulls and other migratory birds are back for summer in the Rockaways! They bring joy and a wonderful balance to our life in NYC.

The Laughing Gulls and other migratory birds are back for summer in the Rockaways! They bring joy and a wonderful balance to our life in NYC.

Have you ever found yourself procrastinating over a task and given in to continuing to procrastinate? Have you ever felt so caught up in your own problems thato it blinded you from seeing the bigger existential threats to the planet? Have you ever lost your equanimity – your mental composure in the midst of a difficult situation – and longed for it back? Have you ever wished for the feeling of having more balance in your life? If so, then perhaps yoga practices and its accompanying philosophies can help.

The classic yoga text, the Bhagavad Gita, teaches:

You have control over actions alone, never over its fruits. Live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction. Established in Yoga, O Arjuna, perform actions having abandoned attachment and having become balanced in success and failure, for balance of mind is called Yoga.
Krishna speaking Arjuna in Bhagavad-Gita (Chapter 2)

I come back to this theme annually in my yoga classes because I think it’s so important and helpful. Often times, I get caught up in worrying about the results of my actions that it stops me in my tracks and prevents me from taking the first action. Are the results going to be perfect? Are they going to get me what I want? What If I don’t know what I want or even know how to get to what I want right now?These are questions I find my mind asking often. Perhaps they sound familiar to you.

What Krishna is advising Arjuna – and all of us really – is to let go of thinking and worrying too much about what the fruits of our actions will be. Rather he advises that we take the best actions we know how to take in each moment and not to put our attention on what the results might be. In doing so, we can experience balance in our mind. 

Similarly, Buddhist teachings, I read somewhere, says:

Equanimity is letting go of the fruits of our actions. 

I saw an interview with Admiral William McRaven on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He said the number one quality of a Navy Seal is that s/he is “a person who just doesn’t give up.” In a sense, this is what we’re striving for in yoga practice – a “don’t give up attitude.” I have a feeling that the Navy Seals who end up surviving the training can do so because their minds are not overly occupied with what the results may be. As a result, they have more head space to just keep going on and trying their best, moment by moment. This “never give up” attitude might help keep their mind in balance and prevent them from panicking and helping them to remain calm in the midst of very difficult situations.

I also sometimes find myself so concerned about the results to the point that I become paralyzed by procrastination. A NY Times article on procrastination and what you can do about itwas very helpful to me in this regard and provides insights on how we can all maintain more balance. It says that procrastination is not about self-control and is not a laziness problem, but rather it’s really an emotional problem. According to Dr. Fuschia Sirois, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” The article gives useful tips for managing procrastination, including practicing self-compassion, cultivating curiosity, and considering just the next step. Similarly, in yoga we strive to be as kind to ourselves in each moment as we can be. We strive to keep our minds open and free, and having a “curious” mind can help us to do that. And we strive to just take the next step, which can help us to stay in the moment and not live in “future” moments.

Another aspect to the art of maintaining balance is to realize that in life on and off the yoga mat there will always be moments of contraction and moments of expansion. The 13th Century Persian poet, Rumi, wrote on this subject of balance these words so eloquently:

Your hand opens and closes and 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

The art of balance as it relates to yoga asana practice art is that there will be times when one is actively engaging muscles and breath, and there is the time for surrender and letting go – sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in balance. In every asana, some muscles are expanding while the opposing muscles are contracting. Someone, I read somewhere said: Balance exists in the equality of opposition. To find optimal balance in any yoga asana, there has to be equality of contraction and expansion, effort and surrender, yang and yin.

Extending this concept out into our lives, everyone has some things they do really well, and other things that they don’t do so well. Same in yoga asana practice. I think this is a good thing. When we can find a harmonious balance between our successes and failures, we can appreciate and be grateful for our natural gifts when we succeed and also realize compassion for ourselves when we fail. If we never failed, we would not be able to have compassion for others. Think about this deeply – might you not become arrogant if you only knew success while others around you mostly experienced failure? Rumi might say that this kind of arrogance is paralyzing.

Another way we can achieve more balance in our lives is to shift our perspective a little bit. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, a 20thCentury Hindu guru, states:

Love says ”'I am everything.” Wisdom says "I am nothing.”. Between the two, my life flows.
I Am That, Chapter 57

As Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj suggests, we can help our mind to stay calm and steady if we constantly shift the focus of our attention to realize that through letting love flow within we come to remember that we are a part of everything that exists. And through letting wisdom flow within us we remember that the individual self is not as important as our own ego would have us believe. He suggests we step back every so often to shift our perspective away from the “small me” to the “big We,” from our false perception of separation to the reality of union. Our life is a balance between Wisdom and Love, Nothingness and Everything, Nisargadatta Maharaj concludes this concept by stating:

Since at any point of time and space I can be both the subject and the object of experience, I express it by saying that I am both, and neither, and beyond both.

So, to be in balance from a yoga perspective means that every so often we need to see ourselves from the perspective of being the subject and the object. We can achieve this by taking time to sit in meditation and just observe our thoughts. Over time, it’s said we’ll experience our non-dual nature, and be in Union with our True Self. 

I know this is a lot to unpack. Yet, I also hope that some of this information can be useful to you. Whether you’re a long-time yogi/ni or relatively new, a regular practitioner or just an occasional one, I hope that your practice can somehow bring you into feelings of balance more often in your life.

May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease,
May you let go of the fruits of action,
May you be OK with your moments of procrastination,
May you be OK with not being the best,
May you flow between the small picture and the big one, …
… for the benefit of All Beings everywhere. 

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni Chun