All too often we live as if on an emotional see-saw, tipping from high to low, from joy to disappointment, from one extreme to the other. In this See-Saw existence, happiness is fleeting and quickly changes to unhappiness. When we find balance there is ease, there is equanimity, there is a very natural happiness. The see-sawing ceases or, at least becomes a gentle movement where we remain close to the centre, where we can retrieve the balance more easily. This is the aim of Yoga.

practising the 8 limbs of yoga

The practice of Yoga should be a way of developing our capacity to find balance. It requires subtle awareness and keen observation. We need to be sensitive, and to be sensitive, we need to refine ourselves through practice so that our feeling for balance becomes dependable. This we can do through the system of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as prescribed by Pātaňjali. This means practising not just yoga postures only, but the other limbs also. The principles of Yama and Niyama are essential, helping us to cultivate behaviour and lifestyle that are conducive to balance and support practice. Prānāyāma breathing practices allow us to balance the nervous system and release constitutive stress from our systems. Taking time to be quiet, to rest the mind, and develop our capacity to focus our attention so as not to be subject to the incessant nagging of the restless voice in our heads, brings mental balance and peace of mind. A complete Yoga practice is comprised of all these elements of Yoga in the appropriate balance to each other, and all with no element of excess or attachment.

moderation is key in yoga

The fourth yama, Bramhacharya means to live in moderation. It means to live is a way which is energy-giving and life-enhancing; living in a non-excessive way. This is key to finding happiness. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains that without balance we cannot derive the full benefit of Yoga

nātyaśnatastu yogo ’sti na caikāntam anaśnataḥna cāti-svapna-śīlasya jāgrato naiva cārjunayuktāhāra-vihārasya yukta-ceṣṭasya karmasuyukta-svapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkha-hāBG 6:16,17

Yoga is not possible, Arjuna, for one who eats too much or too little,Nor for one who sleeps too much or too little.But for those who are balanced in eating, and in recreation and workAnd in sleeping and wakefulness, yoga can remove all sufferingBG 6:16,17

What this tells us is that extremes of any sort are incompatible with Yoga. Through our practice we should find that we become more regulated in every way. We should experience better health, more awareness, greater compassion and more joyfulness in our lives. These, not just physical flexibility or strength or balance, are the real signs of Yoga practice working.

balance in asana practice

The key to balance in posture practice is the breath. Steady, even and stress-free breathing means there will be a steadiness of awareness. There will be a balance of effort and relaxation in the body and the mind will be calm. Then we can feel correctly what is appropriate, we will be steady in body, breath and mind and this will make the practice comfortable, just as Pātaňjali recommends in Sutras 2:46 – 48.

Any excess of effort brings tension, resulting in uneven breath and a disturbed mind. The balance is lost and the results will not be the desired ease and happiness. Students often are too hard on themselves, believing they must try harder or do more. What is really important is not ‘more or harder’, but the quality of how we practice. Regularly, with devotion and without expectation is the key.

We need to monitor ourselves, checking that we are not veering inadvertently to one extreme or the other. We should enjoy our practice and look forward to it, but it should not be an end in itself nor become another thing we are attached to. We should experience that life becomes easier and more enjoyable. Stress reduces and we are naturally more moderate. Any negative impact on health or sleep, any increase in anxiety or irritability, is a sign that we are not finding the balance. Then we must step back and remind ourselves of why we started practising in the first place and begin again to inch towards the middle of the See-Saw.