Balance. We hear the word all the time in so many different contexts. A balanced meal. A balanced yoga practice. A balanced mind. A balanced body. But the thing about balance is, it can't be divided or categorized. Just as when my mind is off balance, it effects what I eat. When my meals are filled with fat and sugar, my yoga practice is sluggish. When my practice is sluggish, my mind feels hazy. When my mind is hazy, I make decisions that add to a feeling of instability. And on and on it rolls.
When I graduated from college a few years ago, if someone had asked me if I lived a balanced life, I would probably have told them yes. I would have thought, I'm healthy (in that I'm not sick), I'm happy (in that I'm not depressed), I'm stable (in that my parents are supporting me). That must be balance.
Not until I began my yoga practice with regularity did I realize the imbalance at the core of who I was. I found myself enjoying poses like Triangle and Warrior II, which tested and rewarded my flexibility and strength. I could look around the room of fellow yogis and feel certain I was up to par. But when it came to even simple balancing poses, my body toppled to the ground. It seemed impossible to hold myself up, to even lift my leg back an inch in Warrior III or raise my arms in Tree Pose.
Class upon class I wobbled and fell, but I kept with it. I fell on every body part imaginable, but up again I went. Around me, my fellow yogis popped up into Ardha Chandrasana like puppets hoisted up by strings. Meanwhile, my modified challenge was to simply lift my leg while both hands balanced on the ground in front of me. Sometimes even that sent me crashing down.
Meanwhile life continued to unfold. I had settled into my new, post-college job; finally found a place of my own; and began making new friends. The major questions marks hanging over my head were dissipating. I was becoming more confident in my work abilities. I was developing faith in myself – finding it was OK to be alone, to be single, to stay in on a Friday night and read. I was learning how to pay bills, make schedules, and uphold commitments. I was finding a self-sufficiency that made me feel rooted deep into my center.
I continued to struggle to come into Half Moon Pose for over a year. Slowly I was able to raise one hand to my sacrum, then months later I began rotating and turning my chest up. I was shaky but determined.
The day I finally came into the full pose was like any other day. My body was warm from Sun Salutations. When the teacher told us to come into Ardha Chandrasana, I knew the routine. The rest of the class would gracefully float into their pose while I flipped and flopped around.
I began my flimsy dance as the teacher over came to assist me. She pressed her hand into my floating leg, guiding me to press back into her hand. With this slight resistance, I found the final building block to constructing the pose. To my surprise and delight, my teacher stepped away, leaving me soaring all alone. While focusing so hard that sweat rolled down my face, I couldn't help but smile.
Within a few seconds, I was back on the ground. "That was awesome!" I exclaimed. I couldn't believe the feeling of accomplishment. It had been so long since a reward was entrenched in something other than work or money. That day, my reward was something completely built and made within myself. I had found my balance.
Since then I have been able to come into Ardha Chandrasana every single time. Something clicked. I recalled a conversation I had a few months back with a wise yoga friend of mine. She told me, with a knowing look in her eyes, that those who aren't balanced in yoga are not balanced in life. At the time, I resented the statement. What was she implying? That my life was unbalanced? Only until later did I understand.
After class that wonderful day, I told my friend of my accomplishment. She grinned and looked at me, "You have grown a lot," she said. And I knew she was right. It wasn't about Ardha Chandrasana. It was about my whole life. And while life will constantly throw me curve balls, I now know that balance is built from within, over time, and with a lot of practice.
Jessica Abelson is the former Associate Online Editor at Yoga Journal. She is working on coming into Headstand away from the wall.