Extreme Balance

balance circus balance yoga Jan 20, 2021

By Alvin Tam

I was in a yoga class today when the idea of going to extremes to find your center hit me. Actually I was trying to hold a move - the instructor said, "20 seconds" - and I thought my legs would give out before it was up. Then I played a little mental trick and told myself that the move would last 40 seconds. My body calmed and I finished the standing asana easily.

It's not a new idea to give yourself a goal further than where you're aiming in order to achieve that goal (make sense?). But it's an application that we forget sometimes when we set an objective. It's just like easing up on the throttle right before you cross the finish line. If you picture the end farther than it is, you blaze across the line like there's no tomorrow.

This brings me to balance and overcompensation. It's the same principle at work. If I'm trying to do a backflip, and I constantly veer to one side my task is to redefine my center so that I can flip evenly. The problem is that rediscovering your center is not always about going directly to your center.

Often you have to go farther, past what you think is the center in order to come back to the middle. If I am teaching a student to correct his flip, I will tell him to try to replicate his mistake but on the other side. It's about knowing both extremes in order to know the center.

Imbalance can also be a skewed emotion - full-scale rage or pseudo pacifism, pious rebellion or mindless conformity - where the true state of being lies somewhere in between. A suffocating passiveness may need to be broken with an uncharacteristic burst of defiance. Likewise a raging aggressivity may need to be tempered with a deliberate act of tenderness. Somewhere intersecting the two poles is the appropriate state.

Finally, when you have played both ends of the scale, and know that your natural resting place lies somewhere between, you will be able to visit those extremes if you want to. Anger may be appropriate at times, while acceptance and non-action may be the chosen response at others. Regardless, the key word is choice. We either live at our center, an extreme, or some interval along the way, but we consciously decide to be there.

Note: The picture in this blog is taken by another circus artist, Marylene Hickok, and the handstand artist is Pierre-Luce Sylvain. I worked with both artists throughout many shows. Marylene and I were both part of a spiritual development troupe we created called Soul Acrobats. This picture showed how balance can be extreme (a one-handed handstand) and focused (holding a book). Working in the circus was a constant reminder about playing between balance and imbalance, and not being attached to either, because both qualities were required to make magic happen on stage.

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