Tune in to two kinds of energy. One single instruction can guide you through just about every choice you make in your own yoga practice: Take whatever action will move you closer to a state of balance. Unfortunately, cultivating balance isn't as easy as it sounds, and knowing just what action will move you in the right direction at any given moment of the day requires a considerable dose of both wisdom and clarity.
The Viniyoga tradition offers a useful framework that can serve as a starting point in the search for a more contented state, one of ease and well-being. In this tradition, yoga sequences and practices are often characterized as creating one of two energetic qualities: brahmana (expansion) and langhana (reduction). Practices that promote brahmana increase vitality and build energy in the body; those that foster langhana are grounding and calming. Certain postures, like backbends, intrinsically build the energy of brahmana. Others, such as long and quiet forward bends, tend to foster langhana. And still others can develop either quality, depending on your focus, pace, breathing pattern, and intention.
Adjust the volume. Being mindful of these two energies during yoga practice can be like controlling the volume on a radio. When you settle onto your mat at the beginning of each class, two main possibilities lie before you: You can either turn up the energetic volume in your body or you can turn it down—that is, you can focus on either brahmana or langhana. By asking yourself which direction you need to move in to find balance, you will have a useful starting point for tailoring your daily practice.
Did you wake up feeling dull and sluggish? Have you been battling feelings of laziness or inertia? Turn up the heat with a brahmana practice of vigorous standing poses, backbends, or Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). Move quickly from posture to posture. Keep your eyes open as you practice. Invite your inhalations to be vigorous and enthusiastic.
Alternatively, you may have awoken with the feeling that every muscle in your body is clenched as tightly as a fist. If so, consider incorporating a few soothing forward bends or toning twists into your practice. Move slowly from posture to posture. Hold each one for a long period of time. Close your eyes as you practice. And let your exhalations feel as settled and soothing as one sigh of relief after another.
Make your practice uniquely yours. Keep in mind that balance is dynamic: It varies from person to person, from day to day, from year to year. That means the instructions that guide you through your practice and your life can't easily be scripted by someone else. The perfect practice for you is likely to be different from the one best suited for me. And the most balancing practice for you today will likely be very different from the one that will most suit you next month or next year.
Finding balance from moment to moment requires not just clarity and intelligence but flexibility and resilience as well. Let your practice be an exploration that moves you ever closer to that lovely state of balance, in which you feel alert, at ease, energized, and relaxed all in the very same moment.
Claudia Cummins lives, writes, and teaches yoga in central Ohio. She offers heartfelt thanks to yoga teacher Barbara Benagh for generously sharing her elegant, innovative, and poetic approach to yoga.