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E is for Equilibrium

Updated: May 17

Finding Balance: Exploring Equilibrium in Yoga and Life

Ever wondered what it truly means to find balance in yoga and life? The concept of equilibrium is useful both on and off the mat.

What does equilibrium mean?

The Merriam Webster dictionary says that “Equilibrium has special meanings in biology, chemistry, physics, and economics, but in all of them it refers to the balance of competing influences”.

If we look at the Latin root of the word, it is made up of “aequus”, meaning “equal” and “libra”, meaning “balance” or “scale”.

So, it’s about having equal weight on both sides of the scale. (Which explains why the symbol for the Zodiac sign, Libra is a set of scales, doesn’t it?) 

Equilibrium, simply put, is all about balance—finding that sweet spot where everything feels just right.

Equilibrium in anatomy and physiology: physical balance

In anatomy and physiology, finding equilibrium or balance can be in the literal sense: stopping us from falling over as we stand or move. Our body is always seeking balance, partly through our proprioception, which is our awareness of where our body is in space. And equilibrioception – I learned a new word today – is our sense of balance.

The receptors that tell us where our body is in space are in our eyes and inner ears but also in our muscles, tendons and joints. Our brain uses messages from these receptors to help us stay balanced.

The good news is that yoga can help us develop our physical balance: not only by strengthening the muscles that help us balance, but also by developing greater awareness of our bodies.

People doing yoga on the beach

Beyond the literal meaning of balance, the body constantly seeks equilibrium in all of its functions, sometimes referred to as homeostasis. It does that automatically, below our conscious awareness.

Fascinatingly, there is research that shows that yoga can create positive changes in the brain that support this homeostasis.

Sustained yoga practice can help reduce stress hormones and increase positive hormones and neurotransmitters. It can improve vagal tone and heart rate variability.

It can help us develop mindfulness and resilience and reduce overthinking, all useful tools for when the realities of life inevitably knock us off balance.

Equilibrium in yoga philosophy

In yoga philosophy, equilibrium is often associated with the concept of "Sthira Sukham Asanam," which translates to "steadiness and ease in posture." (Or, if I wanted to make everything start with E, I could call it the equilibrium of effort and ease).

Essentially, it's about finding stability and comfort in every pose, no matter how challenging. This is why I sometimes guide my students to notice where they can find ease in a pose, such as in the breath, while they notice where the body is using effort.

In our fast-paced modern lives, it's easy to get caught up in the chaos and lose physical, mental or emotional balance. Yoga teaches us to slow down, tune in, and find that inner equilibrium amidst the hustle and bustle. We might think of this as finding harmony between our body, mind, and spirit.

Equilibrium on and off the mat

So how can we apply this principle both on and off the mat?

On the mat, it's all about exploring our edges—pushing ourselves just enough to challenge growth, but not so much that we tip over into discomfort or strain. It's about listening to our bodies, honouring their limitations, but challenging the limitations of our minds.

It’s finding that perfect balance between effort and ease in each pose.

Off the mat, equilibrium means finding balance in all aspects of our lives—work, relationships, self-care, you name it. It's about knowing when to push ourselves and when to give ourselves a break.

It's about setting boundaries, prioritising what truly matters, and finding that elusive balance we're all constantly striving for.

Balance is a process, not an end goal

But let's be real—finding equilibrium isn't always easy. When we try to stand in tree pose, we quickly learn that balance is a process. We don’t find steadiness and then stay there. We will wobble, adjust, fall out and get back in. Hopefully laughing at ourself along the way.

Balancing in tree pose

The same is true off the mat. Life throws us curveballs, and sometimes it feels like we're constantly teetering on the edge of imbalance. We don’t expect to reach perfect balance and then keep it that way, although we might think we can control life to achieve that.  Something will always come along to knock us off-kilter.

That's where our yoga practice comes in handy. By cultivating mindfulness, resilience, and self-awareness on the mat, we arm ourselves with the tools we need to navigate life's ups and downs with grace and ease.

So next time you roll out your mat, take a moment to check in with yourself. Notice where you're feeling off-balance and where you're feeling grounded. Remember that finding equilibrium is a process, not a static destination.

Be patient with yourself, embrace the wobbles, and trust that with time and practice, you'll develop the skills to maintain equilibrium both on and off the mat.

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