How to Balance on and off Your Yoga Mat

By: Maggie Anbalagan

As a yoga instructor, I talk a lot about how to balance in various poses. And as a writer, I love metaphors, many of which stem from my yoga practice. So after repeating the same cues over and over to my students, I was finally struck by the “yoganalogy” between the physical practice of balancing and that ever-elusive work/life balance we struggle to maintain in our daily lives. Feeling like you have a steady hold on life can seem impossible when juggling dreams, career goals, family and a vibrant social calendar. But whether or not you are a yoga practitioner, the following tips for how to find balance during a yoga class will help guide you towards equilibrium even off the mat amidst the hustle of everyday living.

  Strike balance even amidst the busy-ness.   Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry via Burst

Strike balance even amidst the busy-ness. Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry via Burst

Find your drishti.

In Sanskrit, the word drishti means “sight.” We use drishti in yoga to focus the gaze on a still, unmoving point in order to cultivate intense concentration and aid in balance. The reason is that if your eyes wander or watch something that is already moving, your body will follow—shifting, wobbling and finding it difficult to maintain equilibrium.

Likewise, knowing where to focus your drishti in the broader scope of your life will help keep you centered and moving forward towards your goals. When striving to accomplish something—whether leveling up at work, growing your new business or mastering a new skill—it requires a lot of concentrated focus.

Honing in on that big-picture drishti requires you to ask yourself: What drives me? What aspirations fuel me forward and towards what end? If it helps you find clarity, write it out. Having a clear, focused image of your goals will help you know where to direct your energy, and also how to realign yourself when you find you’ve veered off course.

Additionally, zeroing in on your end goals allows you to priortize your daily tasks and focus on what’s most important for staying on track. But it’s impossible to direct your full attention towards one single thing when your Internet browser always has 20 tabs open, your to-do list grows longer by the minute and your phone is constantly buzzing with interruptions.

Well, guess what? That multi-tasking that’s masquerading as efficiency is actually sabotaging your effectiveness. Doing 50 billion things at once usually has the unhappy ending of a pile of un-checked to-do list items that get recycled to the next day’s post-it note. So instead of “more is better,” I’d like to offer you a new mantra: Mono-task the sh*t outta things.

Accomplishing your goals in a timely manner and to the best of your ability means directing your undivided attention towards one job at a time. Prioritize, hone in, and close those extra browser tabs both in your head and on the screen! Remove distractions, be practical about a timeline and set dutifully to work on the task at hand—and only that. Being fully present in the moment allows you to give your best effort to what is before you, seal it up and move on more quickly. You’ll watch the to-do list shrink rather than leaving a bunch of empty checkboxes next to half-finished goals. Not to mention, it’s much less mentally exhausting than spreading your energy thin across a myraid of things at once.

  Finding focus helps you reach your goals through mono-tasking.   Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Finding focus helps you reach your goals through mono-tasking. Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Root to rise.

In yoga class, a firm foundation is key when it comes to maintaining stability in any pose. I always cue my students to take the time to lay the groundwork of their feet or hands on the floor before moving into full expression of a pose. Like a tree that sends a network of roots deep into the earth so that its trunk can rise up strong into the sky, you need to establish grounding roots that hold you steady as you reach higher towards goals and dreams.

Roots also deliver nutrients to fuel growth. In everyday life, this means nurturing the practices that that restore you and fill you up. That special “me-time” is usually the easiest thing to throw overboard when your boat starts to sink, but in reality you’re just ditching your life vest.

Start treating time to recharge as sacred and literally schedule it into your calendar with the same importance as a meeting with your boss. You don’t need to tell anyone that your very important “appointment” is a date with just you, a glass of wine and a bubble bath, or that “running an errand” is actually hitting the trail for a few good miles. You do you. Burning out doesn’t look good on anybody, and that’s exactly what will happen if you continue to run hard with no fuel in the tank.

  Recharge with precious me-time: it’s not an option, it’s a requirement.   Photo courtesy of Emma Simpson via Unsplash

Recharge with precious me-time: it’s not an option, it’s a requirement. Photo courtesy of Emma Simpson via Unsplash

Engage your core.

Not only in yoga, but in just about any fitness class these days, you’ll hear instructors tell you to “engage your core.” It’s not just that it sounds sexy, but the abdominal muscles surrounding the center of your body are responsible in large part for support and stability in many actions. When balancing, activating your core muscles keeps your center of balance strong and steady while other muscles in the body move, bear weight, push or pull.

Day to day, there are countless demands, expectations, and influences pushing and pulling on you, making it hard to stay connected to your own truth. It’s easy to want to go with the crowd, please others and not ripple the waters. But in order to stay centered, you first have to know where your center lies. What aspects about yourself are most fundamental to who you are? How do you choose to interact with the world based on your values? Are you engaging in life from the seat of your truth even under stress? Acting from your deepest beliefs can be a difficult choice to make at times. But congruency of thought, word and action brings peace—that ultimate balance—by aligning with your core values.

Embrace “the shakes.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to maintain perfect poise at all times? To never wobble or feel unsteady?

Dream on, friend. For this lifetime at least, you are living a human existence full of ups, downs and in-betweens, and there are times the scales of your inner equilibrium will tip to one side or the other. It’s crucial to understand that finding balance doesn’t mean you have to maintain evenness at all times. So let that unrealistic expectation go and sigh in relief… Permission to be imperfect!

When working with my yoga students on balancing postures, I often remind them to “embrace the shakes.” It’s impossible to stand on one foot without some degree of movement or swaying. This is merely the body’s way of calibrating—muscles strengthening, tendons stretching, bones stacking—to strike that glorious equipoise. You’re most likely to fall when you stiffen against these movements, rather than embracing them as part of the process of finding that stable midpoint.

And so it is off the mat in the real world, too. Long days at the office, fussy children or unexpected deadlines sometimes throw you for a loop, threatening the beautiful balance you’re clinging to. But it’s the tiny calibrations of how you respond in those moments that train your mind not to freak out and lose it all together. Can you learn to see the bigger picture, to realize that this is just a part of the journey back to the middle? Rather than beating yourself up for bad days, embrace the wobbles of your human existence as calibration tools, knowing that you will make your way back home over and over again simply by staying aware of where your center rests.

Fall. Laugh. Try again.

I tell my students that if they never fall out of a pose, it’s time to get braver. Fear of looking silly or inept in front of others can make it hard to break out of your comfort zone. But it takes coming to your edge, and sometimes even falling right over it, to truly know your own capabilities. That uncomfortable line you walk between your safe zone and the unknown is where the growth occurs. Being courageous enough to continuously toe that line, being confident enough to fall, laugh and try again, only expands your experience and erases those perceived limitations.

Once again, you are human. You will fall sometimes, if you’re willing to take the risk. Be willing to take the risk. Balance is not synonymous with perfection. It’s finding harmony within yourself and joy along the bumpy ride.

Maggie Anbalagan grew good southern roots in Louisville, Kentucky, but has always had a heart with wings that fly her around the world to explore, taste and embrace new cultures and experiences. She has volunteered in Kenya, studied abroad in Bolivia, lived and taught in Mexico, wedding shopped in India, and eaten her way through Italy. From an innate fascination with words and languages grew her love of writing, and she holds a degree in both Literature and Spanish. Maggie is also a certified Yoga Instructor and Studio Manager at Wild Heart Yoga in Austin, Texas.When she’s not jet-setting, you’ll find her in the studio and on the mat, covering miles on Austin’s trails, recreating favorite flavors in the kitchen with her husband, and writing in coffee shops around town. And you’ll never catch her without snacks in her purse. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook for all the latest shenanigans.

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