If yoga could be boiled down to a single concept, I think that concept would be balance.

Each week I choose a theme for my classes in order to clarify and focus the concepts that I want to teach. Most of the time, whatever theme I choose, what it really comes back to is a play between opposing forces. In other words, balance.

From wikipedia.com, a definition quite compatible with the yogic perspective:

“a desirable point between two or more opposite forces.”

It is this point of balance that we are seeking with our practice of yoga. However, this point is not a fixed place. Balance is a never ending dance of awareness and sensitivity. The search for it is the substance of a fulfilling life.

From the Eastern perspective, the natural world can be divided into complimentary opposites called yin and yang. These complimentary opposites balance each other, thereby creating harmony. Neither yin nor yang can exist without the other. They define each other. They also contain each other: within yin, there is yang and within yang there is yin. Each one, when taken to the extreme, becomes the other. At the extreme of yang, there is yin and at the extreme of yin, there is yang.

I find this to be an extremely helpful and profound way of looking at the world. A reminder of both the complexity and elegant simplicity of nature.

Because each of us is blessed to be unique in both body and mind (perhaps soul too, though I can’t speak to this authoritatively) the point of balance will also be unique for each of us and possibly different each moment as well.

This is an inherent limitation of group yoga classes. The teacher gives instructions that she has reason to believe will benefit (ie create balance in) the majority of the group. She learns to “read” the class to respond to the imbalances she sees and feels. But she cannot give instructions for each unique person without confusing the majority of the class and undermining the potential benefits of the practice. The way that I was taught to teach is to walk around the room and help as many people individually as possible. But in a class of 40 or 50, I am lucky to reach half the class.

It is essential for each student to take responsibility for their own practice. We must remain alert and curious, observing the effect of each instruction, rather than following blindly. We are responsible for learning about our bodies and our minds, so that we can take our yoga practice with us out into the world where it will do us the most good. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your workout, or stress relief, or gentle stretching once a week. But the real benefits of yoga come when we keep trying to find that balance point in the hubbub of life.

I find it interesting that the synonyms for balance are poise and composure. Those words describe perfectly what it looks like to live yoga. You do not let little things throw you off balance. This is not an outward composure, where you hide your inner turmoil, but an inner poise. As you practice more, you simply find that you are less easily bothered by things. And in the spirit of true balance, when it is time to lose your cool, you lose it. After all, we’re only human.