Learning the one-legged balance poses are challenging in many ways. One of the first things we realize is that balance is as much a function of focus or concentration as it is strength. Sometimes, at the beginning of practicing poses like tree, warrior III, or dancer we are so wobbly at first that we don’t notice the distinction between strength and focus. As we practice and build strength, we realize that dharana or concentration is equal to strength in helping us sustain and perfect these poses.
One of the instructions you will often hear in a yoga class concerns the drishti or gaze and how we are to use it to focus our attention in order to hold our balance. Generally a teacher will suggest focusing at some stationary object in order to aid our balance. But drishti is more than simple visual focus. In Sanskrit, drishtican also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. So, drishti refers to our inner sight as well as to what we see with our physical eyes.
This brings me to a practice that I’ve been working with on and off for a couple of years now: blind balance. Closing the eyes while performing a one-legged pose is the practice of blind balance. If you think you possess balance and equanimity, standing in tree pose with your eyes closed will either confirm or challenge your assessment of your state of inner balance.
Give it a try. If you are truly composed, focused and quiet, you should be able to maintain your balance with ease. If you lose your balance, you will see that you need a bit more practice. Most of us, me included, will lose our balance rather quickly when we try this practice. You may find, as I have, that sometimes you will be more successful than others. I asked myself why many times. At certain times we are more balanced and may not be able to explain why. Steady practice, as it is so good at doing, will eventually reveal the answers.
A good place to begin is near a wall or some other sturdy object. Start by holding onto to the object as you close your eyes. As you become comfortable and stable, begin releasing your hold one finger at a time until you are free of your prop. This may take awhile, perhaps months depending how much you practice. Enjoy the journey. As you do you will discover many things about yourself that have lain dormant awaiting this exploration.
Since you are practicing a type of pratiyahara, or consciously withdrawing from your normal dependence on vision, your concentration on your breath will be all important. Whenever I’ve succeeded in blind balance it has been because I became totally focused on and absorbed in a slow deep breathing pattern.
One recommendation about tree pose and blind balance. Be sure to pull your knee cap up by engaging your quadriceps muscles as you practice. This will help keep your knee in proper alignment as you stand in tree pose for periods of time longer than what you are accustomed to.
Since I have not mastered this technique yet, I cannot tell you what to expect. But if my current level of experience is any indication, the possibilities are tantalizing. One thing I can say with confidence is, that this technique most certainly has a potent and positive effect on the brain.
I would love to hear from you as you embrace this simple but potentially powerful practice. I’d also love you share your insights with all my readers.