A Blythe Coach

On Balance – Practicing the Process of Dancing with Equilibrium

When everything is turbulent, how can we find equilibrium, equipoise?

In my work as a movement educator in ballet, dance, and yoga, as well as life coaching, the topic of balance comes up so often! Therefore, I thought I would do an experiential exercise where I ponder on the process of balance in the body as well as in our larger lives while actually practicing refining my own balance skills.

A couple of conversations in particular that I had lately after dance classes have had to do with balance, so I thought I’d share those insights with you as well as point you in the direction of a variety of resources for promoting balance, be it physical or existential. 

Podcast Episode 091: On Balance – Practicing the Process of Equipoise is the audio companion for today’s article

Mind and Matter

One recent conversation was with one of my advanced ballet students, who remarked about how finding her balance is somehow easier after vacation, even though physically deconditioned. My theory is that it has to do with, in addition to a good foundational knowledge of the mechanics of balancing, greater mental relaxation.

You see, balancing well doesn’t rely on strength or endurance, rather proper application of alignment and poise. Effective technique makes it easy, almost “effortless”, but is definitely impacted by our mental state. 

On a related note, in the other recent conversation I spoke with another dancer who is “after 40,” about how balancing skills can also be developed as we age.

Adults can continue to improve balancing abilities, proprioception and familiarity with our own bodies, coordination and control, so that we have practical movement skills that help us age healthily and well. Honing focus, technique, and balance continues to be important to our training at all ages.

I have noticed in my work as a dancer and as a yoga practitioner that there are certain universal physical, anatomic, and kinesiological principles that help us to perform successfully, and there are therefore similar ways that we use the supportive musculature of the body to support our aims.

Naturally the body works how it works and obeys physical laws, no matter what discipline we practice. I enjoy how the approaches, language, and visualization from different philosophies (including of course yoga and dance, which also take from other traditions and take diverse forms) can help create transformation and growth in our chosen areas of focus.

In terms of our physical awareness and mastery, we use proprioception in the body, or awareness of where parts are in relationship to one another and other objects in space. In the sphere of personal mastery, the perception in our mind reality, as well as our self-knowledge and growth, our created commitments, and our goals as we walk through life come into play.

Keep in mind that balance is an ongoing process for every person, and how each of us finds balance is going to look differently!

We seem to often have the mistaken idea that balance is static, fixed, or still, something either “off” or “on.” Really, balance is a CONSTANT play and flow of adjustments. If we embrace the process, rather than trying to find a “perfect” position once and for all or giving up and assuming we can never learn, we are so much freer to learn to balance (or stand) dynamically and efficiently. The same is true of balance in other realms of life 🙂

On Balance: Practicing the Process of Equipoise is the video companion to this article

Dynamic Image of Posture

Peggy Hackney quotes Irmgard Bartenieff in the book Making Connections:

“The static image of ‘upright posture’…persists widely, in spite of the fact that modern science, particularly neurophysiology, has broken down the notion that static ‘posture’ is in contrast to mobile locomotion, because it is now realized that they are not based on different regulatory mechanisms. The reflexive order of the use of upper and lower limbs is equally applicable to standing and maintaining balance and walking. That is, the same mechanisms regulate ‘postural’ change and locomotion. The dynamic image of ‘upright posture’ is described by Laban as an ongoing, cohesive, three-dimensional process that creates and recreates a series of relationships of Up/Down, Right/Left, Forward/Backward. In fact, the whole body slightly sways while ‘standing still’ in figure-of-eight distributions of the weight (Center, Forward, Right Side, Backward, Center, Forward, Left Side, Backward, Center). Uprightness is the quintessential example of the moving equations describing both sides of the constant stability vs. mobility struggle. Physiologically, all activities of the body function maximally to the degree that they maintain balance even in motion, just as philosophically/psychologically, our lives depend on the same principle.” (p.97)

Build a Strong Foundation

Ultimately, I believe practicing the process of balancing consists of applying two things:

Basic Alignment Principles / Techniques
Mental State / Mindset
Brilliant Balance

It is about the PROCESS of balancing, which is experiential and ongoing, not about a one-and-done complete and final state. We can see this process in action in the most masterful dancers as well as those just starting out, such as in the famous “Rose Adage” from the “Sleeping Beauty” ballet:

Rose Adage with Svetlana Zakharova on YouTube

Balletic Balance

In her manual of ballet technique, Vaganova includes  “Stability & Aplomb” in her basic elements of classical technique.

Podcast Episode 024: Stability & Aplomb

Podcast Episode 024: Stability & Aplomb, or Integrity in Action is the second in my podcast series on the Elements of Dance, including The Body, Action, Shape & Shaping, Space, Time, and Quality/Energy

“Definite stability is achieved only when the dancer realizes and feels the colossal part the back plays in aplomb. The stem of aplomb is the spine. The dancer should learn to feel and control her spine through observation of muscular sensations in the region of the back during various movements. When you manage to get the feeling of it, and to connect it with the muscles in the regions of the waist, you will be able to perceive this stem of stability.”
Basic Principles of Classical Ballet: Russian Ballet Technique of Agrippina Vaganova

Yummy Ballet Conditioning provides gentle training in fundamental movements for core strength and balance while mostly reclining on the floor

A key example of developing a stem of stability is through breath and core support, or integration of the systems of the body.

Yogic Balance

In yoga we use pranayama or breath techniques as well as asana or postures to develop stability and ease. One technique to support yoga practice and physical integration for dance and athletic endeavor is engagement of the Bandhas.

Three of the most commonly applied bandhas are the Mula, Uddiyana, & Jalandhara, which together form the “master bandha,” the Maha Bandha. Bandhas fall under the larger classification of Mudras, which can be gestures or positions of the hands or other parts of the body, with bandhas specifically involving engagement or “locks” of specific muscle groups, as discussed in the video below:

The Yoga for Integration – Bandhas & Kapalabhati video explains the use of breathwork and muscle “locks” to inform yogic integration and assist with dynamic balancing

This balancing process is addressed in classic texts of yoga philosophy such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra book 2.46-48, where it states: “The posture of yoga is steady and easy. It is realized by relaxing one’s effort and resting like the cosmic serpent in the waters of infinity. Then one is unconstrained by opposing dualities.” (Yoga Discipline of Freedom: The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali, translated by Barbara Stoler Miller)

I really love that image that Patanjali uses about the cosmic serpent, Ananta, or “the infinite,” resting afloat on a sea of milk, feeding on honey, and receiving a foot massage… it’s so luscious!

In their Yoga International article on these Sutras, Robert Svoboda & Scott Blossom explain that this concept is: “More literally translated as ‘resolutely abide in good space.’” They go on to define the Sanskrit terms: “The yoga term sukha means happy, good, joyful, delightful, easy, agreeable, gentle, mild, and virtuous… Sthira can mean ‘firm, compact, strong, steadfast, static, resolute, and courageous.”

Podcast Episode 011: Creating Good Space: yogic sukha & sthira provides audio about this yogic philosophy

Podcast Episode 011: Creating Good Space

Patanjali was describing a balanced posture for meditation, but it can also be a great way to approach any situation that calls for balance, from movement contexts to relationships.

You may also enjoy practicing balance while standing on one or both legs or on your arms as in the following practices:

Happy Knees Stability Yoga Practice video
Arm Balance Yoga for Energy video

Living a Balanced Life

Poise and coordination are the physical manifestation, dynamic postural alignment, coordinated and ready to move in any direction or maintain a position in space. 

We don’t operate in a vacuum, physically or metaphorically, we are moving through the world responding to our own needs and calling, and also to others, to changing circumstances and forces around us, in constantly-shifting relationships. Like physical balancing, the basic principles are universal, but exactly what it ends up looking like for each individual is unique. 

“Work-Life Balance,” family and career, input and creative output, community and solitude, so many media and venues and so little time. Yes, “work-life balance” is about making empowered choices, understanding that there are seasons of life, and true balance is change management.

In larger life, it is having a solid foundation of well-being in place, healthy priorities, a strong support system, and tools for purposeful and aligned decision-making, the presence to respond with sensitive awareness. I’m not saying it is ever easy or over, but there are lots of tools to help you strike your own sense of balance.

My recent series around the stages of my signature process is also relevant the the concept of personal and professional balancing:

Be Open to Easy Balancing

Remember finding balance can come more naturally when we are well-resources and relaxed. Try not to over think it, rather consider balancing simply as standing with stability, rootedness, dynamic posture on whatever part of the body it may be, not necessarily suspended in air far above the earth (although the principles work there as well).

We’re just trying out, playfully, just standing in different ways (arranging our body parts or our lives in different arrangements, not necessarily a tightrope walk far above the earth.

For perspective, here’s what that looks like:

Same skills, but very different context! Consider staring on a lower gradient and see where that takes you 🙂

Questions for Reflection

  • What is your relationship with balancing?
  • What habits help you to practice balance in your life?
  • What physical balancing practices do you particularly enjoy?
  • How can you bring a sense of play and exploration to your balancing efforts?
  • Could you use more steadiness, more ease, or both?
  • What resources do you have that you’re not currently utilizing to create balance in your life?
  • How might you be able to luxuriate, like a serpent, in your own movement and stillness?
  • What will you commit to doing today to create the stability and comfort of “Good Space” for yourself and for others?
  • How will you care for your body and foster integrity this week?

You are invited to take a playful approach to practicing balance today, and in every moment.

Balance Technique Resources

Life Balance & Self Care Resources

DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.

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