Sunday, July 1, 2012
Balance: A Little Restorative-Yin Yoga Can Offer A Lot Of Balance
Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012
RATHER THAN REFERENCING balance poses such as “tree” or “dancer,” the physical practice of all yoga is a process of balance in every pose: poses done on both sides, back complementing forward poses, intuitive choice to flow into poses that come from listening to the body that suggest a need to bring some aspect into balance, and in each pose—even seated and prone poses—having a intention/invitation of aspiring toward listening for that “completion” that offers balance, and that balance that comes to the body especially flat on our backs in savasana.
Rather than simply improving one’s ability to balance on one leg, the important contributions of yoga and gentle body-mind practices such as tai chi are their capacity to offer some balance in everyday life. Perhaps even more than physical effort, due perhaps especially to the fast pace of modern life, there is a demand for an emphasis upon calmness.
Modern life can be a chaotic process of trying to balance the demands of vocation, family, nutrition/exercise, social life, and finances. In addition, there are the perpetual high-speed micro-moments of traffic, TV, computer, phone, as well as the slow drag of the “gray of work,” and routine, self-doubt and self-criticism [I am not good enough]. And there are much larger issues of degrading global environmental quality, weather disasters, poverty to the point of famine for millions, disease, and extreme violence that either form a concerning backdrop or are a direct component of one’s life. Life is, as it has always been, a juggling act and there is a cost to trying to keep all of these balls in the air. And for all of the comforts of modernity, the quest for a sense of balance strongly endures.
More active yoga concentrates on musculoskeletal balance throughout the body by practicing a sequence of poses. Perhaps even more in modern times as yoga has exploded in popularity, yoga and asanas [poses] can seem to be synonymous. But asana practice alone can miss the deeper intent of yoga and most body-mind practices.
Restorative-Yin poses do not utilize typical balancing poses that typically come to mind, such as balancing on hand(s) or leg(s) or head or some combination of these parts. And yet, this practice contributes strongly to the deep intent of yoga to restore balance to one’s life in a way that can surpass these obvious poses. Restorative-yin yoga concentrates on a more internal physiological balance that the mind-body opens by intentional quieting and calming.
The calmness and quiet and sustained poses of restorative-yin yoga offer a powerful counter against the fast pace of modern life. And just a few hours of this practice might go a long way against the 100+ waking hours in the rest of the week. And restorative-yin yoga is not simply a step out of the everyday for a period of recuperation, but rather a practice that, when regular, may be carried forward into everyday life to de-stress and help us react less to events that we find either irritating or traumatic. In facing “problems, this “training in deep relaxation may, first, counteract overreacting. Calmness can introduce an opportunity for observing, for stepping to the outside of the “problem” to see what it might be offering.
Restorative practice is not just a respite for some moments of mental and physical relaxation. It is not primarily a mental process where we aspire to do nothing to relax. It is a concrete, active physiological process. In fact, the power of this practice to begin to reach beyond the practice sessions to affect everyday life comes from its capacity to make a very intentional, active shift in body physiology. If activated, the process of “doing nothing” makes a quantum qualitative shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative-yin practice impacts the major respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, neuro-endocrine processes.
Stillness in restorative practice reduces metabolism. Reduced physical activity/metabolism activates complex chemicals to increase alpha wave amplitude, and to diminish the various endocrine glands’ chemical responses to stress. Stilling the body paradoxically sets off a storm of activity, allowing the body systems to “listen” to the subtle processes of the body that might be obscured by more external demands of everyday life—such as water levels and salt levels and cell vitality—and regulate these processes to bring them into balance that the cells of the body favor for optimal development.
Sleep offers important rest, but it can be tossing and turning especially with aging, frustration being worked out in dreams, cycles of deep to very light REM sleep. Deep relaxation in restorative-yin yoga is intentional and typically builds as the session continues. It brings the mind to the body to intentionally induce stillness and to soften/lengthen and to slow the breath cycle (while retaining some carbon dioxide that provokes vascular expansion). And as the breath cycle slows, attention might shift from guiding the body to follow the body, to ride the “wave” of the breath. Frustration is not really displaced through hard effort, but rather, let go.
Balance is not bliss. And restorative-yin yoga or any other body-mind practice is not a “cure.” Life is a rich rollercoaster of experiences—pain, aches, “darkness,’ self-illusion, and routine, but also joy and little pleasantries that are often overlooked.
Restorative-yin yoga is a body-mind practice that tips experience toward tranquility. Without really pressing for it or seeking it, restorative-yin practice developing more than just physical and mental calmness. This calmness can open a pathway toward the deeper terrains toward which yoga aspires—sacredness in life and a realistic sense of sacred space and miracles everywhere rather than either missing or rare, and harmony, grace, and eloquence. Surprisingly, calm practice is not only very active but also pro-active; making some real time for those qualities that are generally acknowledged as valuable, instead of saying there is not enough time. And as this relaxation skill begins to come into everyday life, it can transform limiting patterns. Errands and activities can be rethought and some time found, because this time for balance begins to be experienced as a way to enter the richness of life for which we should be making time rather than a “medicinal” antidote for stress.
In calmness, we can go deep. We have the time to see that the sun is not moving across the sky from east to west as much as the Earth is rotating from west to east. We can engage the oft-missed self-reality that we are more than just ourselves, that we are inseparable from all of our experience, and that we express a universe. For a time at least in restorative-yin practice, we stand to become fully present. Then, our being-ness is active and our personality takes a back seat. In turn, this shift opens a rich opportunity for that which we find meaningful in life to dramatically expand. We can become at least a little better at balancing the dimensions of life as they present themselves while also attending to these aspects that are all around us but that are overlooked and free for the taking.