Vishnu’s Couch, variation
This post is part of a weekly series about the realities, the challenges and the joys of self practice. For more posts in this series, click here.
I wobbled back and forth, steadied for a moment, then my next breath shifted the position of my ribcage – my quiver became a totter and I rolled right over on my back for the fourth (or tenth?) time, and lay there exhausted and laughing. Today, in my physical practice, I worked a particularly tricky pose called Vishnu’s Couch. Do you know it? Here’s a nice representation. I worked all sorts of poses today in preparation for this, in particular the poses that look like this, but in other planes (think Tree Pose and Full Side Plank to name a couple), each of which requires some amount of balance – but this one, this one with an entire side of my body in contact with a solid surface rather than just the sole of my foot, or a foot and hand, is somehow the hardest. Finding balance here is an intricate, ever-shifting dance. Just to hold steady perched here with hips stacked and both legs extended is a challenge, requiring all sorts of minute and quickly applied adjustments and responses in the body. To stave off the wobble, to steady when I inevitably lose focus and begin to totter, to keep every muscle that needs to be engaged, engaged (which, by the way, means I can probably LET GO of some of the others). The exact moment that I become distracted or lose the engagement is the moment I roll over on my bottom (or my belly) – again. Balance, man.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of balance – and how it’s really bullshit. For us mere mortals, I mean. Not that it’s isn’t something to strive for, or a worthy goal – absolutely it is. But who do you know who is really balanced? If someone gives the appearance of it, I question the reality behind what you see. More than likely, they are simply good at tolerating all the ways that they’re constantly thrown off balance. Maybe, they even enjoy them sometimes. That sounds pretty great, actually, doesn’t it? A friend shared the story the other day, of her nursing school professor, who was on a mission to replace the word homeostasis, the word often used to indicate the tendency of the body to balance – with homeokinesis (stasis indicating stability and kinesis indicating movement) “Balance is movement,” she said. In terms of our minute physiological processes, those that happen beneath our ability to detect them – nerve impulses, immune response, etc, are striving for, but never actually reaching balance. The philosophical concepts of steadiness and ease in yoga asana are aiming for balance. And if we could accomplish this perfect mix of effort and relaxation, then, perhaps we could in fact be truly, perfectly balanced in every pose. It’s unlikely though. There is always something to tip the scales, internally, and externally. And much of this (almost all of it, I would argue) is simply beyond our control.
Let’s get back to physiology for a moment. When it’s hot outside, our bodies sweat in an attempt to regulate our temperature. The sweat evaporating from our body and into the air might in fact cool us down a bit. And that means, of course, that our body has lost valuable liquid and minerals required for our health. At this point, we must consciously intervene to rehydrate. Which is followed by another need, to go to the bathroom. And beyond this simple example, there are millions of processes going on within our body at any given moment that we cannot even detect – processes that also represent (are) this wobble, adjustment and reorientation. The body is always striving for balance. Maybe it reaches it in the briefest of moments, but more likely, it never does. It doesn’t stop us from living, it doesn’t stop us from being able to experience love and joy. Just because the body is in a constant wobble doesn’t mean we don’t strive to take care of it. This isn’t just a metaphor for our life. It IS our life. It is the physiological process of living. So what makes us think we can actually reach, and hold onto, this elusive state of “balance” in the midst of all the responsibilities and events and relationships of our lives? In truth, the richness of our life is around the edges of this thing called balance.
So wobble, ok? Let it go. And laugh.
What’s your take on this concept of balance? I’d love to hear.