Real Life Yoga and Ayurveda, Part 2
Finding balance: Learn to be cool, don’t turn up the heat.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST AJA BLANC
Part 1 Some Like It Hot
When I first started taking yoga classes, I was coming from what you might call an overheated place. It was like taking a car with an overworked engine and smoke pouring out of the hood into the mechanic, except my overheated engine was resulting in a lot more than just smoke under the hood.
The heat was a manifestation of the element of fire being played out in my life in a way that was causing inflammation, making me sick, and stressing me out. Unfortunately, it was a slow burn that I continuously ignored and neglected until the fire alarm was sounding loud and clear.
Fortunately, yoga eventually not only helped me pay attention to what was going on inside before I hit code red, it also helped me find ongoing balance.
In my last post, I gave an overview of the relationship between Ayurveda and the elemental energies and forces that are manifested within us as well as the world around us.
A yoga practice can help balance those energies, if we allow our practice to be malleable and responsive to all the fluctuations in life that swing our balance out of whack.
Some folks have an abundance of elemental fire, or in Ayurvedic terms, they would be characterized by pitta dosha. When pitta is balanced, it manifests itself in all kinds of helpful ways – through self-confidence, passion, a sharp mind, strong digestion and more.
Out of balance, pitta can put tremendous strain on the mind and body – through aggression, unproductive anger, impatience and inflammation.
Sometimes I feel as though we have a societal overabundance of pitta. So many people chronically pushing harder, moving faster, aggressively competitive and stressed out. How can we bring pitta into balance and put that passionate fire to good use?
Looking back at my early days of yoga, I can see all the ways my pitta nature was out of control. I had the sense to find a yoga tradition that emphasized a balanced approach of physical, spiritual and emotional practice.
Yet despite never having stepped into a yoga class before in my life, I marched myself right into a level 2 class. I was being competitive before I even walked onto the mat! In those early days, I had brilliant moments of release and relaxation, but I also pushed myself and had my share of no pain, no gain.
It wasn’t until years later that I had a real breakthrough in my practice that helped me get some perspective.
Don’t be a hostage to your own heat
In class, I would always dutifully get blocks and place them next to my mat, with absolutely NO intention of using them. Blocks? You mean not go all the way? Use help? Phff!
But one day, during practice we came into trikonasana (triangle pose) and my teacher reminded the class that balance in a pose was found not only in the physical manifestation of the posture, but also in how we mentally approach it.
I looked at the block, felt acutely the strain radiating down my side body and decided it was time to back off and use some support. The posture completely opened up for me – and felt wonderful.
But the best part was the permission I gave myself to find the balance and support I needed.
Cool delicious personal practice
That was what I would call an off-the-mat lesson: it was a lesson that I took off the mat and applied to other areas of my life with sweet results.
For me, using that block was a way of chilling out. Chilling out for you might look a lot different. Although I could list the different asana and pranayama suggested as cooling practices, we all need to find our own ways of balance. A cooling asana for me is all molten-lava fire for you.
Here is the basic idea: like increases like.
Think of it in terms of yin and yang; they are understood in terms of relating to one another. Where yin is cool, yang is hot. Yin is slow, yang is fast. Yang is focused, yin is diffused.
Observe yourself – tune in and chill out
Remember, like increases like. When practicing yoga, notice what creates overheating and seek out opposites.
If fast movement unbalances your pitta, move towards stillness. If long holdings in postures create too much fire, seek ways to let the body move and flow so the heat is diffused. Seek out postures that infuse you with a water-like feeling.
The quality of yang is outwards focused, so look to contemplative practices and introspective activities to cultivate the cooler qualities of yin.
What’s fascinating is that a posture that feels overheating one day can manifest itself very differently the next. So let your practice be responsive and fluid. Enjoy tuning in and chilling out.
And for all you folks shivering with cold while reading this, you’re in luck! In part III of the series, we will look how what can happen when the fire needs stoking.
Peace to your practice,
Look for Part 3 of Aja’s Finding Balance on The Magazine of Yoga this Labor Day Weekend.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.