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Special Feature: The meaning of balance

Special Feature: The meaning of balance

Special Feature
The meaning of  balance in healing

SOME WORDS evoke myriad layers of meaning and balance is one such word worth exploring.
The word itself has lost its significance through vernacular overuse, trying to describe that nebulous state that no one can quite define definitively. This little essay might explain why this so, and given that the word balance is used quite profusely in complementary healing modalities such as herbalism, aromatherapy and Yoga, I hope to lend this “neither here nor there” word more substance and less effusive meaning.
Since these three healing modalities provide the foundations upon which Tinderbox is built, such an enquiry could be useful as well as interesting.
The Body knows what to do
Homeostasis is the word that we use in herbalism to describe the state of stable physiological balance that is strived for in our quest for overall health.
It is also about survival; the ongoing task to maintain a steady internal state where temperature, blood sugar level, hormones and myriad other variables are kept within narrow limits; our environment experiences the same struggle. This process is fundamental to life, an expression of a force within, working towards harmony and integration.
To achieve homeostasis we must be adaptable and live in contact between two environments: the outer ecological and the inner physiological.
Our three healing modalities each strive to create a bridge between the inner and outer worlds, creating harmony and resonance and the resulting balance allows us to radiate our higher state back into the environment. Yes, our health is always in motion; striving for balance to stay alive.
A harmonious interplay of energies
In herbal or yoga circles we may still hear about the familiar concept of Yin and Yang. This old cliché still makes sense in the pursuit of this elusive state of balance.
The Chinese cosmology method of treating an imbalance describes the universe as a circle divided in half by the dual energies of yin and yang. Some of the yin principal may be found in yang and vice versa.
The human being embodies the same principles whereby the yin constitution is the feminine, passive, receptive, dark, cold and wet and the masculine yang constitution is active, light, heat or dryness.
To create balance the healer must provide a diet, herbal and yoga therapy that provides more of the yin or yang that is lacking.
Harmonious or balanced interplay between these two energies within humans is required for mental and physical health; therefore we treat yang illness with a yin herb or oil or yoga pose. We learn when alkaline is required to reverse an acidic disorder or whether nutritive, tonic herbs that build up vigour are a preference to eliminative, detoxifying herbs to clear a congested, stagnant state.
Rest/digest versus fight/flight
In aromatherapy, essential oils do a balancing act by either stimulating or sedating the nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of two opposite divisions: The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the heart, causes the bronchi to react, contracts the arteries raising blood pressure, inhibits the digestive system, mobilises glucose and stimulates the secretion of sweat, thus preparing the person for physical action.
The parasympathetic system slows the pulse, lowering blood pressure, decreasing the secretion of sweat and prepares the person for feeding, digestion and rest.
Of course each system has its relevance at different times in different individuals and in aromatherapy we learn to artfully either excite or inhibit either of these systems with specifically indicated oils; whatever is necessary to achieve a balance of health.
Most of us in modern life have the sympathetic nervous button jammed on and need to seriously arouse parasympathetic function; sometimes we might reach adrenal depletion where a kick-start to the energy by rousing sympathetic function is necessary to lift the torpor. Undeniably there is a herb or a plant oil to restore balance.
The anima and animus within
Yoga provides a valid path toward creating balance and uniting opposites.
This concept is illustrated in the Shiva/Shakti dichotomy of the opposing forces of inherent masculine (unmanifest) and feminine (manifest) energies working together within the mind/body soma. (According to the ancient Indian philosophy of Tantra, the universe in all its diversity arises from the union of these two principles.)
Yoga practice is the ongoing mindful process of bringing these two innate energies into balance to ultimately realise the true nature of Self.
In our physical bodies we develop a balance of strength and flexibility, which is a balancing act between mobilisation and stabilisation. We learn about the powers of dynamic tension, which embodies the principle of action and counteraction.
Relaxed and powerful: the way to be
One of the key yoga sutras is: “Sthira sukham asanam” which means the yoga pose must be performed with steadiness and ease in equal measure.
Sthira is the effort to build up the pose from a grounded, strong foundation with alignment of the bones and sukham is the “sweetness” created when the breath and softer tissue relaxes deeply, releasing tension within the defined structure of the pose.
We thus become relaxed and powerful when we find this balance between containment and permeability, rigidity and plasticity and spaciousness within boundaries.
We also learn to balance our effort and surrender in each pose and this enriched awareness ushers us into a new world.
Balance is an exploratory verb, not some kind of perfect noun
We discover that finding equilibrium is not an exact, static moment or perfect place to be or achieve; it is an ongoing, continual experience of exploration and unfoldment.
The Sanskrit word for perfection is purnata and literally translated it means: “Fullness in the moment.”
Perfection is thus a changing playing field, not a set way of being; it means doing the best you can, on this day, in this body under whatever conditions arise.
The yogic processes of moving towards stillness are not as much something we do as they are naturally unfolding properties of being that our selves hold in check by default.
Aspiration grows from grounding
Even the simple act of standing or holding a yoga pose, is no motionless affair, with its constant fluctuating micro movements, where the muscles, tendons and bones keep readjusting themselves to find balance and not exert extraneous effort.
 The body’s native condition is one of intrinsic equilibrium whereby it naturally enjoys and flourishes to find the most easeful way to stand upright.
For instance, actively yielding to the earth creates a rebounding force away from the earth, elongating the body upwards into space.
Each moment the body negotiates where it needs support and where it needs release. These are the innate opposing forces that each of us needs to bring into balance in order to truly thrive and function optimally.
Finding the middle way or the point of “balance” between the opposing forces, there arises a tangible feeling of fullness and increased peace and well being which we could also describe as equanimity.

‘Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.’
- Anais Nin

The three Gunas
It is appropriate now to bring up the Gunas, which the ancient Vedic scripts describe as the cosmic energies that pervade all of nature (prakritti) including the human mind.
The gunas reflect the polarities in nature with one pole that is static, a second that is active and a third representing the point of balance; they are the archetypes of mental states.  
All activity in nature is an expression of the gunas and their constantly changing rhythms. In human beings these changes are our ups and downs, mood swings and changing points of view from minute to minute, throughout the day and over the span of months and years.
Yoga brings awareness to the gunas and thereby offers freedom from their domination.
So what are they?
Rajas is the energy of activity, change, evolution and development. In the mind it is the energy of attachment, wanting, grasping and desire. It is the drive to hunt and obtain food through conquest, competition and winning. Rajas is the fight aspect of the fight and flight response.
Tamas is inertia, or lack of movement. In the mind it is stubbornness, apathy, resistance to change or the feeling of being stuck. It is also the shadow side of our nature, emotions that lie dormant and repressed. Tamas represents another aspect of the fight or flight response, which is the freeze or play dead response.
Sattva is the point of balance between rajas and tamas. At the level of the mind sattva is a quality of clarity and light. It is a feeling of peace, balance and harmony, a sense of being enough, doing enough and having enough.
See the recurring pattern?
The practices of yoga, aromatherapy and herbalism help create a state of balance, reducing both the extremes of rajas and tamas and facilitating a state of sattva.
We learn which herbs, oils and postures attain the sattvic state of balance for the different body-mind states. We will learn that this state is not an end in itself, but a doorway to knowledge of the Self, which transcends all three gunas.
Eventually the expanding consciousness brings home the realisation that although matter and Spirit, the mother of all pairs of opposites, are two distinct entities, when in true balance, they are undivided. The seeds of ignorance are thus dissolved when this is actually seen, lived and awakened to, yet ironically this state of non-duality, where all separation ceases, is subject to much divisive debate!
Moving towards stillness
We all recognise balance when we see it in design; a harmonious and satisfying arrangement or proportion of all the elements.  
We know balance when we feel a sense of ease; that stable mental state of emotional stability. We might well ask our self just who is the balancer who is being balanced and from this witnessing viewpoint perhaps one day the balancing dance will cease to happen.
We will know when we stop being tossed between the pairs of opposites, such as desire and aversion and settle into a body and mind impervious to oscillations.
The pause between two breaths and two thoughts is suspended, and we find an entryway into the cellular level of us. We will know when all falseness and struggle melts away, and we see our swinging this way and that as a form of bondage.
 In the meantime, until such an exultant day, let the unconscious “scales” of our human embodiment perform their balancing act to heal us as we continue with our ongoing enquiry into self-awakening.
Let us co-create in the cosmic dance between spirit and matter . . .

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