Thursday, September 17, 2009

Balance off the mat

Here is a cool thing about balance of the mat. Balance for different people looks different. Balance, for the human, is not some outside imposition because we are all different- with different constitutional make-ups, with different dharmas (dharma: duty, life purpose) to fulfill. And while what is optimal and balanced for each person will share certain characteristics and qualities, the actual content of what is balanced action off the mat is different for each of us. (Kinda like in yoga how each one of has to do pelvic loop but the sway backed among us have to lots more of it than do those practitioners who are flat through the lumbar spine.)

Think about it like a car. A Toyota Tercel is designed for a certain type of driving that is very different from a Porsche. A Ferrari, for instance "hums" at a higher speed than does a VW bug. Try to open up a Yugo on the Autobahn and you will have a different experience than if you open up high-end BMW. And we are like that also. We are each built differently, with different capacities, different weaknesses, different strengths and different dreams. That is my point.

I really got this when I made a foray into Ayurveda several years ago. At the heart of the Ayurveda approach to health and healing is the assertion that there are different constitutional types or doshas. Health, in Ayurveda, is seen as a state of balance or sattva and that state of balance is relative to each type. For instance the balanced state for pitta (the fire type) is different that the balanced state for kapha (the water type) and the vata type (the wind type).

For instance, no matter how in balance I get, I am still a fiery type with wind. (pitta-vata) No matter how much meditation, yoga, good eating, therapy, and so on that I do, I am not going to ever be soft, retiring, super-nurturing and very accepting. I am going to always be fire. I will be passionate, intense, clear-minded, outspoken and probably prone to a first response of anger or criticism (largely of myself!). I can learn to temper it, I can through a variety of means, give the fire good steady fuel to burn so it doesn't blaze out of control, but still, my optimal is going to be balanced for fire. I will not morph into a watery type. Period. And this goes the same for every other type.

Ayurveda, like Chinese Medicine, feels the pulses for diagnosis and treatment and so this idea holds true on the physical level also. A balance pitta pulse actually feels different to the practitioner than a balanced pulse feels for a vata and/or a kapha. So like that.

Somehow this learning did not come easily to me growing up or even in the worlds of therapy and new-age spirituality where I got the message that balance looked the same for everybody. I was unconsciously waiting for a state of inner calm, receptivity, cool-headed acceptance and abiding compassion to overtake my personality and I would have "done it"; I would have achieved balance! What I have learned, however, by following certain protocols (and by not following them also! Gotta love contrast!) what balance feels like for me.= and what things tend to support that state and what things tend to work against that state.

When I first went to see Craig Williams to get some help with all of this he told me, "You are like a forest fire with a dry wind blowing on it. We have got to get the wind to stop blowing on the fire. Once we do that your fire will be just fine so long as you give it the right kind of fuel to burn." Now the radical part is that by following a few of his suggestions I started to calm down a little. The wiry feeling I had inside (which I always thought was "just how I was") started to subside and I really experienced myself and my world differently.

So this is an interesting thing to consider when we start to consider "inner wisdom" relative to our unique expression. We do not always see ourselves clearly. We do not always make the correct assumptions on the evidence we have. (Interestingly, Joh Friend often reminds us that dosha also means, "tat which will easily go out of balance.") Like how I thought the wiry feeling was just me having lots of energy and was just fine since it is just how I have always been. (And on one level it is just fine but on another level it was not my Highest. But I digress.) So by getting some outside help and suggestions, I was able to experience a new, more optimal state, which is now my "inner wisdom" or my "inner barometer" for balance. And weirdly, I did like this state better. (At least usually! I mean for a thrill seeker, calming down is not always fun in the way we think of fun, right?)

Also, because of human nature, many times we crave and enjoy those things that tip us out of balance. Me, for instance- I love spicy food, coffee, alcohol, television late at night, driving fast, moving quickly, loud music, working lots and all things that aggravate my dosha. Left to my "inner wisdom" I might make choices, if I was not educated, discerning and disciplined that actually made my situation worse. I might confuse that wirey feeling with "good energy" and, being the type I am (read:addictive pitta!) want more of that feeling and choose those things that made me even more stimulated.

And let's tell the truth, I do sometimes choose those things and I do not always follow my inner barometer of balance, but at least I know the difference now. When I am off I have something to compare it to. I have some place to return to that I know, from direct experience, as more optimal for me. And so my "inner wisdom" was initially educated with help from the outside. That is my point.

It reminds me of how we chant our invocation- I bow to the Auspicious Lord that is the true teacher within AND without. We bow to both sources of enlightenment of Grace. So obviously this relates to yesterday's discussion about classic form vs. creative variations. More on that tomorrow.

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