Equanimity, a word that many yoga teachers including myself throw around but what does it really mean? I always assumed it meant to balance by working two opposites at the same rate to create wholeness. So based on my previous post about searching for balance within all the things that I am, I decided to theme my classes this week on equanimity.
When I was teaching yesterday I was talking about how we can integrate all the pieces of who we are by beginning with the inhale and exhale. Asana practice gives us a very physical way to turn esoteric concepts into concrete and then even the biggest skeptic can begin to work them. With the intention of balance and bringing the body into harmony, we can begin by making the length of the inhale and the length of the exhale the same, 4 counts in and 4 counts out. Once you’ve got that rhythm going, see if you can make the strength of the inhale and the exhale even from beginning to end. This can feel unnatural and may take some practice but stick with it. Immediately the mind is cooled. In focussing on the breath we get present. Rather than thinking about yesterday or planning tomorrow, we are right here in the moment, exactly where we should be.
You can layer this concept of balance of the breath with movement. When incorporating movement start to work the front and the back body equally, the left and the right and the top and the bottom. Then unite the movement with the breath. It is this marriage that defines vinyasa, the flowing of the body with the breath.
According to Miriam-Webster dictionary equanimity does refer to balance as a disposition but it goes deeper than that. All the online definitions I found said the same thing, essentially that equanimity is having an evenness of the mind even under duress. So that when we are working hard in class, the mind remains calm and still like a glacial lake, undisturbed by its surroundings. How do we keep the mind even?
The breath is a great place to start, focussing again on the inhale and exhale, not holding the breath, encouraging it the be even from beginning to end and the length to be the same on the inhale and the exhale. Another great way to remain steadfast is to focus the gaze. We call this the drishti. Each pose does have a place to gaze traditionally, I find that in most classes where we place the eyes is often forgotten about but the eye gaze is important because where the eyes go, the heart follows. A steady gaze also means a steady mind. Rather than looking everywhere we look at one point. I often call this the omnipotent gaze, where we see nothing and everything at the same time.
So what then, does all this mean? Equanimity is a quality of having an eveness of mind even when we are under duress. During a yoga practice we can cultivate this by focussing on the inhale and exhale, making it equal in length and strength. We can also calm and still the mind by focussing the eyes on one spot, this is call a drishti. Equanimity is also cultivated by creating balance in the body, by working opposite sides of the body equally, rooting through a foundation so the rest of the body can rise, being strong and soft simultaneously, and using the breath and body to step into the flow of life, that inhale and exhale or expansion and contraction, the pulsation that resides in all of us. Yoga is equanimity. As defined by the yoga sutras, yoga is the stilling of the mind, equanimity is having this yogic quality.