by Morgan Webert
I recently heard that humans rank as one of the least stable animals on the planet when looking at base support to height ratios (and I’m sure we’d rank up there when looking at other factors as well). But, when it comes to physicality we have a very small base of support, our feet, and a relatively high center of gravity, making our movement in space on the teetering-tottering end of the stability spectrum.
Often in class I ask students to close their eyes, rock back and forth, feel the entire surface area of their feet contacting the floor, and then attempt to still the motion and find equal standing pose, samasthiti. We attempt to find equal distribution of weight on the feet and an upright stance that stacks all our moving parts one on top of the next so we feel supported and stable.
Anybody who has tried this simple practice knows we never find true stillness. The longer we focus our mind and observe the subtleties within, the more aware we become of the constant micro adjustments and sways in our body. But, we also become more aware of our center of gravity, and that to maintain this fine balance requires a combination of both effort and ease.
If we fire all of our muscles to the maximum, each inevitable micro adjustment becomes exaggerated in our body and we continually move further from our center, like over steering a car. On the flip side, if none of our muscles fire we simply flop around like a young sapling in the wind. The sense of standing stillness happens when we work just enough to support ourselves, but relax just enough to allow ourselves to rest into the support of our aligned structure.
This practice exemplifies balancing the Ayurvedic principals of Brahmana and Langhana energy. Brahmana means to expand and represents the energy of action, when we create support and heat and is associated with inhaling. Langhana means to reduce, and represents the energy of non-doing, it allows us to receive support, cool down and is associated with exhaling.
While some moments require us to exert more Brahmana energy and others more Langhana, I find that we can improve our stability on many levels when balancing the two. I’ve also observed through my years of yoga practice, teaching and work as a remedial massage therapist that people really struggle with integrating Langhana energy into what they’re doing. People have a hard time allowing themselves to be supported without completely collapsing.
When I teach a challenging warrior pose I can see jaw clenching, neck muscles popping out and shoulders hiking up, and it takes a lot of conscious effort for students to soften all those areas, allow the torso to be supported even while the legs and lower abdomen expand with Brahmana energy. When giving bodywork I usually have to ask a person five or six times to relax and allow me to support their arm or leg before they really let go of holding it up themselves. Its amazing how often the person says something like “Wow I didn’t even realize I was holding again,” or asks “Am I relaxing yet.”
We take it for granted that building muscle or strength for support will require training, but allowing ourselves to be supported and releasing unnecessary holding patterns and tension also requires training. The idea of tapas, dedication to practice, is so often thought of regarding physical action, but we must also have great mental tapas, or vigilance to self observation, to change our subtle habits.
Yoga asana practice is beautiful training for learning how to let go incrementally and discern when and where action is need or not needed. By balancing Brahmana and Langhana energy we gain a long lasting stability. The kind of stability that will allow us to hold a really long warrior stance, or the stability needed to take care of work, house, family and other duties without exerting all of our energy and then taking a crash and burn.