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Yoga Basics: Volume Control

September 8, 2010
Yoga isn’t about perfecting a laundry list of asanas or mastering complicated breathing rhythms. Instead it's about cultivating balance in your body, your actions and your life. With this in mind, a single instruction could guide you through just about every choice you make: Follow whatever action will move you closer to a state of balance.

Unfortunately, cultivating balance isn’t as easy as it sounds, and knowing just what action will move you in the right direction at any given moment of the day requires a considerable dose of both wisdom and clarity.

The yoga tradition offers a useful framework that can serve as a starting point in the search for a more contended state of ease and wellbeing. In yoga, sequences and practices are sometimes characterized as cultivating one of two energetic qualities: brahmana, expansion, or langhana, reduction. Practices that cultivate brahmana increase heat and vitality in the body, while those that foster langhana are cooling and calming.

Certain postures, like backbends, intrinsically cultivate the energy of brahmana. Others, like long and quiet forward bends, tend to foster langhana. And still others can cultivate one quality or the other, depending on your focus, your pace, your breathing pattern  and your intention.

This concept is a little like volume control on your radio. When you settle onto your mat at the beginning of each class, you have many possibilities before you that can either turn up or down the energetic volume in your body - cultivating either brahmana or langhana. By asking yourself which direction you need to move in order to cultivate balance, you will have a useful starting point for tailoring your daily practice.

Did you wake up feeling dull and sluggish this morning? Have you been battling feelings of laziness or inertia? Turn up the heat with a brahmana practice of vigorous standing poses or backbends or sun salutes. Move quickly from posture to posture. Keep your eyes open as you practice. Invite your inhalations to be vigorous and enthusiastic.

Alternatively, you may have awoken with the feeling that every muscle in your body is clenched as tightly as a fist. If so, consider incorporating a few soothing forward bends or toning twists into your practice. Move slowly from posture to posture. Hold them for longer periods of time. Close your eyes as you practice. And let your exhalations feel as settled and soothing as one sigh of relief after another.

Keep in mind that balance is dynamic, and varies from person to person, from day to day, from year to year. That means that the instructions that guide you through your practice and your life can’t easily be scripted by someone else. The perfect practice for you is likely to be different from the one best suited for me. And the most balancing practice for you today will likely look very different from the one that most suits you next month or next year.

Cultivating equanimity from moment to moment requires not just clarity and intelligence, but flexibility and resilience as well. Let your practice be an exploration that moves you ever closer to that lovely state of balance where you feel alert, at ease, energized and relaxed all in the very same moment.

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal (May 2004)