When you are balancing perfectly in a tree pose, everything is easy; your breath is deep and relaxed, and your muscles are working for you just as you’d like. It’s pure and simple. Efficient. When you are having a great day, the same things occur. Your breathing is relaxed, your body is working harmoniously with your mind; everything just feels easier because you are in a state of balance.
Why is balance important? From a life lesson standpoint, it’s about learning to enjoy yourself without getting the ego involved. Say you’re doing a headstand. The moment you think to yourself, “Wow, I’m doing this pose!” is usually the moment you’ll topple out of it. You take yourself out of the moment and knock yourself off balance when you judge and think about what you are doing, rather than experiencing and enjoying what you are doing.
That’s what yoga teaches: how to be fully present now, no matter the circumstance. We focus on breathing because each inhale creates more space in our bodies. We focus on movement, as each movement reminds us that every moment invites a new opportunity for change. Each exhale allows us to let go of the moment that has just passed. Our attention to each breath keeps us in the now.
Learning to savor the moment keeps us from living in constant worry and fear and tension over things that haven’t happened yet and may never come to pass. Practicing yoga helps us to undo these bad mental habits and stress triggers that we often unknowingly pick up along the way.
But you might be asking, “What if the now is crappy? How can living in the moment help with that?” When your life is not in balance and you’re struggling to achieve stability, practicing observation without judgment gets really interesting, and very useful. How? Because you can learn to distance yourself from the roller coaster ride of your emotions and circumstances but still enjoy the ride of life.
External means of escape like alcohol, drug use, and even overeating are a means of pushing uncertainty away and covering it up temporarily. And they may feel comforting for a moment, but I don’t need to tell you that eventually they will cause more trouble than they ever solve. There is a big lesson in experiencing uncertainty and calamity with a sober focus—the most chaotic moments are the ones from which we can learn the most. Let’s go back to tree pose. Your tree pose is going crazy and you’re falling; and your leg is burning; and it feels impossible to maintain any sort of stability practice observing what’s happening instead of getting wrapped up in the circumstance. If you can learn to be easy with your breath in these moments, your body and mind will follow.
All the body’s systems and processes—your nerves, your emotions—take instruction from what is going on with your breath. When your breathing is easy and deep, your body works efficiently, and your mind settles. That doesn’t mean that your balance (in tree pose or anywhere else) will be perfect and your life will be seamless, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with the wobbles and earthquakes that get thrown into the mix.
You can fall out of a tree pose with ease, or with frustration and a sense of defeat. Just like you can take a spill in your life and decide to dust yourself off—with a chuckle or an annoyed grunt—and get back up, or you can stay down, lie there, and give up. It’s entirely up to you. It’s your life, and your practice. And as I said before, what you practice on the mat is what you end up doing in your life.
Any of the yoga poses could be substituted in this analogy. How you practice is much more meaningful than what yoga moves you can or cannot do. A successful tree pose probably won’t change your life. Learning how to keep your breath easy, long, and deep no matter what the circumstance? That absolutely will.
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