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.