listening and responding to the asana
The act of balancing can be seen as the process of listening and responding to all contrary forces within a given asana. Ardha chandrasana, or half moon pose, is essentially a balance pose, and one that incorporates elements of strength and flexibility. I find it to be a beautiful pose, and the first time I observed my yoga instructor demonstrating ardha, I was absolutely mesmerized by what I saw.
Transcending all forces of gravity or time, she took her place at the front of the class, placed her left foot forward, her right foot back, and slowly bent her left leg so that she could reach down with her left hand and connect to the ground. From there she lifted her right leg gently into the air. “Once you can do this,” she said, “you can try letting go of the ground.”
She then proceeded to demonstrate the deeper aspect of the pose by slowly pivoting on her standing leg so that her torso drifted up towards the sky, her back leg extending, gliding it seemed, away from her body. Her hand lifted five inches off the ground, and the whole time her spine was in alignment with her extended leg. She floated herself back down, again touching the ground, and effortlessly repeated the whole movement a few more times before fully coming out of the pose.
“Steady the body, steady the mind,” I repeated each time I would attempt half moon pose. After about a minute of holding myself precariously outstretched, I would inevitably fall out of position. And the thought of actually “letting go” of the ground? Well that seemed like an utterly daunting and insurmountable feat.
I would try paying careful attention to my body as well as my surroundings, but I could sense it right away. Some part of me would start to shift, the hip of my standing leg would start to ache, my ankle would get wobbly, and my weight would rock from one side to the other. Then it would become a seesaw battle as I began trying to correct it, my whole body swaying like a loose sail. My back leg would oscillate wildly, and realizing that I was no longer in control of the situation, I’d fall.
I’d start thinking about how badly I did not want to lose my balance. I’d find myself holding my breath, hoping a breeze wouldn’t blow through the window. My eyes would dart about the room, checking to see that no one was within three feet of me—surely this couldn’t be what balance was all about! My experience was nothing like what my teacher demonstrated. What was the trick?
One major difference, I posited, was our attitudes. I would react frantically to a change in the asana, while my instructor would respond with total composure. While she was in the pose, she wasn’t afraid to move. Was changing my attitude all that was required to transform the way I practiced ardha chandrasana? I decided to try.
The next time I attempted half moon pose, I remembered the energy my teacher projected during her demonstration and tried to emulate it. I bent my leg, softly lowering my hand to the ground while raising my opposite leg. I tried to find myself somewhere in the pose, but within moments of reaching it, I felt my weight starting to shift again. I began teetering back and forth and tried, with each change, to respond with my best guess as to what I should do about it. But it wasn’t long after swaying to and fro a few more times that I ended up, once again, falling out of the pose.
I eventually reached a contemplative state of mind where everything appeared clear to me. Although I was wobbly while in ardha chandrasana, I hadn’t panicked. And although I did not have much poise, I didn’t tense up either. There were moments in the asana when I had been in balance, and if balance is defined as a state of equilibrium, characterized by the cancellation of all forces by equal, opposing forces, then indeed I had been in balance! If conditions are right, then balance will come, even though it may be fleeting.
The whole experience of being in the pose moved to the forefront of my mind. I realized while getting into the asana that my attention was focused on moving my arms, legs, and other body parts into these specific positions. I became more aware of the shifting energy of the pose and had been actively responding to it. I realized that from the moment I began forming the pose, the pose had been changing all along. And I, in turn, had been responding to those changes; I just wasn’t aware of it. And if balance is but an ephemeral state—one instance in time—then the act of balancing could be seen as the process of listening and responding to the asana.
It is the dynamic relationship between change and adapting to change that captivated me. Watching my teacher pivot her body so effortlessly on her one standing leg was a dramatic display of this very relationship. Every time we practice an asana, we are simultaneously responding to the changes taking place, and yet we are also contributing to them.
How we respond in conjunction with our current condition creates a state of balance. It’s hard sometimes to know what the right response should be, but I can only give it my best guess, and practicing yoga gives me a chance to learn how to make better guesses.