It’s a busy world out there! And for many of us, it’s a busy world inside, too. Our minds are kept stimulated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, all day and often through the night. We’ve been given many ways to find quiet moments, to find balance, in our lives: meditation, self-care, strict schedules, exercise, journaling, etc. But, as a yoga teacher and practitioner for the past two decades, I have found a sure-fire way to find a quiet moment every day. It takes less than a minute. No experience or equipment is necessary. It’s very portable. It can even be fun.
What is it? WHAT IS IT?
Balance postures. Simple balance postures. I know it sounds too easy, but I promise if you are in the middle of chaos with your brain spinning and your body tensing up, coming into a simple tree pose will give you a brief respite to calm down and recenter.
You can’t “fake” balance. You must be present, aware and focused to keep from falling over. And that sustained focus is where the balance magic happens. Acclaimed yoga teacher, Roger Cole said, “The sustained effort to center and recenter, when successful, brings not only our flesh and bones into balance but also our nerve impulses, thoughts, emotions, and our consciousness. Hence, we feel calm.”
Still don’t believe me? Try it! Choose any balance pose. Here are some of my favorites:
- Warrior 3
- Table Balance
Find a spot on the floor, a foot or two in front of you. This is your focal point, called a drishti in Sanskrit. Stare at this spot and mindfully move into your posture. Hold the pose for a few breaths and observe what your body has to do to stay balanced. Feet roll in and out. Arms may flail or flap a bit. Your belly and back constantly work and adapt to find equilibrium. And you thought a balance pose was static!
While your mind is unconsciously keeping you upright by moving dozens of muscles at a time, it isn’t able to run through your to-do list, worry about the disagreement you had with your spouse, or repeat the song lyrics that had been plaguing you all afternoon. In a balance pose, you must remain completely in the moment. From the instant you start mentally jumping ahead to your next task, you fall out of the posture. As Cole said, “Standing on one foot, we naturally drop extraneous thoughts to focus on the task at hand. That’s why these poses can instill a deep sense of calm even though they require intense, unwavering alertness.”
The next time your child is being swept away by emotions or anxiety, bring them into a balance pose with you. Start in a partner pose, using each other for balance and then let them balance alone. I’ve also used this balance trick to help my kids prepare for speeches and presentations at school. Once they’ve practiced their presentation a few times and think they are ready, I have them do the presentation while standing on one foot. Again, your mind can’t actively keep you balanced while doing too much thinking. So, if they could do their speech (or play their band solo, or recite their multiplication tables) while keeping their balance, then we were pretty confident they knew their stuff.
Obviously, practicing balance postures is good for your physical body, too. “In addition to promoting concentration and calm, these poses strengthen our muscles and build our coordination and balance, improving our ways of standing and walking as well as how we perform many other everyday activities. And these benefits might actually prolong our lives, helping us avoid the falls that often lead to injuries and death among the elderly” (Cole). Imagine the sense of balance and the strength of our balance postures if we started building these muscles during childhood.