Philosophy

spring equinox vernal equinox balance yoga

On Balance and the Equinox…

 

March 20th was the spring vernal equinox. For a tiny slice of time the earth span completely upright on its axis, day and night were equal in length across the planet, light and dark are matched and yoga teachers across the globe heed the call to talk about finding balance in our lives as well as our Uttitha hasta padanghustasana.

Balance is something of a buzzword in yoga. Studios are named after it, teachers use nifty balance sound-bites and in every yoga class we go to, if we don’t find ourselves standing on one leg and doing strange things with the other one then we’re holding a pose and trying to find the perfect equilibrium between stretching ourselves (both literally and figuratively) without pushing to a point of lasting discomfort.

But what if constant pursuit of the conventional ideal of ‘balance’ in our lives – particularly the one upheld by the yoga community – is a bit like chasing a unicorn?

Maybe balance as we typically imagine it is a little over-rated.

A few years ago, I was really driving my veterinary career. I did a surgical and medical internship in one of the best horse hospitals in the country and suddenly found myself working more hours than I was aware existed in a week, earning way less than when I was 17 and at ‘Pizza Hut’ and coming nowhere near the daily recommended allowances for sleep, vegetables and exercise. Unless you counted cat-napping in pathology meetings, ketchup and chasing errant patients and/or vet students. One particularly memorable bank holiday I scored a 64- hour shift without a shower, sleep or proper meal. My life was not balanced. But, in the moment, I was pretty happy. I had purpose and was working towards something that was important to me.

We all go through phases like this. Take the first flashes of a new relationship. We choose our beloved over (healthy) food, sleep, self-care and phoning our friends and grandmas. Life is messy and spontaneous – it doesn’t drop neatly into equally proportioned boxes.

Even when I decided to devote more energy to yoga because 100+ hour weeks knee-deep in poo weren’t doing it for me anymore (and I love it), I still didn’t move in the ‘balanced’ way people expected. I quit my job, moved to a damp and crumbling farmhouse in a new area, simultaneously started two completely different businesses and acquired a puppy, a parrot and a proverbial bun in the oven. A hair-brained plan. Well, it wasn’t a plan. It was some more intense, free-wheeling shooting from the hip. But I’m happier than I ever thought I had a right to be.

I’m just not convinced we make the biggest impact in our lives when we prioritise equally dividing our attention between our career, family, significant other, friends, self-care, diet, dogs and gym routine.

Just like in asana, our ‘ideal balance’ in life is immensely personal. What looks great on one person would result in bone breakage for others. What might look slow and easy from the outside can be a ridiculously rich and fierce experience inside.

yoga balance snow snowga snoga Ullswater yoga Lake District

If our physical balance in class is a reflection of our inner balance… and I immediately pulled myself up the one time those oft-quoted words left my mouth in class, then it’s not the cookie cutter balance we’re often led to believe we’re searching for. It’s unearthing peace and equanimity with exactly where we are and immersing ourselves in the present moment. If we’re wobbling (and wobbling is cool) it’s likely because we’re momentarily stuck in the past or racing ahead to what comes next, rather than being fundamentally out of whack.

When we’re genuinely consumed by what’s happening right now, when our reality makes us feel electric and alive, our posture blossoms and steadies. Off the mat, our life feels productive and worthwhile.

Instead of defining balance as equal division of attention between our various earthly commitments, that division should feel appropriate to ourselves and the moment. Who cares if our pose or our ‘work-life’ choices look wonky as sh*t from the outside?? If it genuinely feels delicious and lights you up then go for it. And more power to you.

With (happily unhinged) love, Sal xx

ahimsa yoga blog Cumbria Lake District

The One Yoga Move We Should ALL Be Practicing…

… is called ahimsa.

Ahimsa is one of yoga’s yamas.

It might sound like it involves stretching a hamstring, but to practice ahimsa we’re chasing a totally different kind of high. We’re going after those nice warm moments you find yourself getting when you practice yoga and find yourself inexplicably acting a little better towards other people and yourself… even if it’s just for a few minutes after rolling out of Savasana.

And yep, it can be practiced just like any other stretch.

Some explanatory background… The yamas are the first of the 8 limbs or ‘practice areas’ of yoga. ‘Ashtanga’ literally translates to ‘8 limbed yoga’, although the system is recognised universally across the different yoga schools. Other limbs include asana – our physical practice – and pranayama – our breathing practice. The yamas are a set of guiding principles for ethical living, concerning our outwards behaviours and attitude towards to the world. The fact that this is the very first limb of yoga – before physical practice – give us a clue as to their importance.

So what does Ahimsa actually mean and why should we take it to heart as we deepen our physical practice?

Ahimsa is often translated as ‘non-violence’. Which sounds like a logical place to start an ethical code. Except not many of us would describe ourselves as violent people or be able to pinpoint too many acts of true violence in our lives.

(Yep, incase you were wondering this is where the great and sticky yoga/meat-eating debate comes in, but we’re definitely saving that one for another day… Except to super-quickly say that whilst I personally choose a vegan diet, I definitely don’t think that eating meat and being a ‘good’ person/yogi are mutually exclusive. There are no lines in the sand in yoga or our individual ethical choices.)

Instead of ‘non-violence’, I like the more modern translation of ‘non-harming’. Little acts of negligence, damage or harm to things, people and ourselves are a whole lot easier to identify and work with. Not that ahimsa asks us only to avoid harmful deeds; it also reminds us not to speak carelessly or maliciously, or think harmful thoughts. Because – being honest – we can get on our mats and stretch ’til the proverbial cows come home, but if we walk out of class and start whinging, bitching and flipping the bird at inconsiderate road users, we might as well have gone to ‘legs, bums and tums’. (No disrespect, LBT).

It’s a big playing field once you get to thinking about it. And perhaps it’s the point of practicing ahimsa that we start to consider our actions and their consequences rather than instantly morphing into perfect human beings.

Think about how much brain space and energy we’d save if we could learn to live without random acts of road rage, looking in the mirror and berating our thighs, snarking at our loved ones when we’re under-carbed or binge watching Vikings/X-files re-runs/[insert personal Netflix choice here] instead of getting some much-needed sleep. Lots. That’s a lot of spare power for handstands, baking cake, making love, singing in the shower, selfless giving and dreaming up amazing plans for holidays or a generally-blissful Utopian future. Or whatever makes your own little corner of the world a better place.

It sounds kinda nice, right?

One of the best exercises to start consciously practicing ahimsa in our lives is really simple. (As simple as doing ‘legs up the wall’ in bed, which I’m also forever recommending for its life-enhancing benefits.) For one whole week, try to make yourself aware every single time you say something unkind or casual about another person. It might be your partner and they might deserve it. It might be a certain colleague, a faceless immigrant on the news, or an overly face-y celebrity in Heat magazine. Just bring the comments to mind, either in the moment or running a few mini-reviews throughout the day, and quietly consider the consequences of sowing these little seeds of negativity. Is this really acting like the person you’d like to become? Probably not. So we try to do it less. Then, we try to stop gossiping completely.

Just another say to let that post-practice goodness start to seep a little deeper.

However you do it, practice ahimsa like a hip opener. An open heart is way cooler than a good baddha konasana.

With love,

Sal xx

 

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