Balance - for Ourselves and the Earth
Whenever we are standing we are balancing. For most of our lives, we are so adept at it that we don't notice the constant adjustments of the body, feedback from the smallest of movements that prompts a nerve to fire, a muscle to contract, in order to keep our center of mass over our feet. In asana practice, we intentionally challenge our balance, lifting one leg off the ground in tree pose, or warrior III, making our base of support small and taking away the most natural mechanism of balance, which is the cooperation between our two legs.
Yoga is a practice of finding and maintaining balance. In many ways, the world is out of balance. I think that we all sense that at some level. We may not be able to explain what is wrong, but we know something is. That's why we are anxious about the future, overwhelmed, stressed out. We may not know exactly how, but we sense that humans are the cause of the imbalance.
The climate crisis is the most global and overwhelming symptom of the imbalance that humans are causing. Why is this happening? For most of our existence, humans lived in close relationship to all the life around them - the local plants and animals that provided them with food. They understood the natural cycles and rhythms of the seasons, which plants were safe for food, which had medicinal properties, and which needed to be avoided. They passed this knowledge from one generation to another, and they understood the essential relationships and interconnectedness of nature, including themselves. They took what they needed to live and knew to not take too much. They understood they were caretakers of the balance, and that their life and that of future generations depended on how well they maintained balance and harmony in their society and in the nature around them. These concepts, of the human role in maintaining harmony and balance, are widespread in indigenous cultures.
The widespread modern view of the world is not as a complex living system that we are part of, but as resources for us to use. It doesn't see humans as caretakers of the balance, simply as takers. There's little respect for even obvious limits, and no respect for the needs of future generations. How else can we explain pumping fresh water out of aquifers faster than it is being replenished, using the water for our own short-term benefit and passing on a degraded, desiccated land to future generations? How else can we explain the destruction of ancient rainforests which hold species we don't even yet know, with genomes that could cure diseases, driving species to extinction and precluding future generations any opportunity to know, study, experience and love them? The examples of this ignorance and arrogance seem endless.
The solution lies in the hearts of humanity. We have to wake up once again to the ancient wisdom that balance is essential, and that as Peruvian spiritual teacher Arkan Lushwala has said, "Ours is the task of taking care of everything else. This is what humans do - use their creativity, their ability to create beauty, art, to create an energy, a vibration, that goes everywhere and keeps things in balance."
This is the yoga that we need to practice at this time, a yoga deeply rooted in restoring balance and holding the center. Each person must find their own balance, and most of us start practicing from a state of profound imbalance - our various forms of disease and distress are evidence. We've been out of balance in our lives for so long that it seems normal, even though awful. As soon as we understand that imbalance isn't the state we're intended to be in, we begin to see our lives in a new way, and our practice can lead us back into balance of body, mind and spirit.
When we find our personal balance, we may find ourselves looking at the imbalanced world around us, the world we used to live our stressed out lives in and think was normal, as profoundly abnormal and in desperate need of care. Then we can use our creativity, our own unique abilities, to create an energy, a vibration, that helps bring the world back into balance. We become caretakers once again.