This week, I met with a student. She hasn’t had much time to practice because she’s been hosting family and roasting hogs and enjoying summer all around. She mentioned that her schedule hasn’t been very structured or normal. This is something she’s kind of likes, but isn’t doesn’t always foster balance or time for self-care. So we spent a little time talking about early-warning signs that she’s heading out of balance. The idea is, when we can identify these signs we might take action and do the things that help us back toward balance (or at least mitigate some of the effects of a different schedule while we have it.) It’s good to know early so we don’t have to deal with the full-on melt down that can come later in the process.
In the first chapter of the yoga sūtras, Patañjali identifies some signs that we are out of balance. YS I.31 says that if you have any of the following symptoms, you’ll know you are off:
- duḥkha, a tightening or restriction in the chest or emotional distress
- daurmanasya, negative thinking
- aṅgamejayatva, the body doesn’t function well
- śvāsa-praśvāsā, breath is short and shallow
- vikṣepa saha bhuvaḥ, lack of focus and short attention
This is a great list, but it really comes to life when we start to identify, in an experiential way, what that actually looks and feels like in our own body and life.
- How do we experience that constriction in the chest and what triggers it? What does it feel like?
For me… anxiety. Ugh.
- What are the negative thinking topics that start running in your head when you are off?
Instead of enjoying people and their quirks, I see everyone as annoying.
- Is there a place in the body you start to feel pain?
I know I’ve got a nagging shoulder thing that flairs up when I’m stressed or under-rested. I also want to sleep more.
- A breath practice can really help with noticing what breathing feels like when we are balanced and calm vs. out of sorts.
Most days I can easily reach the breath ratio I’m working with. On the days I can’t, I know I need to take it easy and do a little more self-care.
- And lack of focus or short attention span?
When I start obsessively checking email and facebook, like every 10 minutes, something is off.
Taking time to answer these questions for yourself and to identify these symptoms as they come up in your own system is so useful. It has been for me. These become the signals to take action. It’s a lot easier to get back on track when the symptoms are small than when fatigue and imbalance leads us down the path to emotional melt-down, illness, or even disease. Small efforts in the right direction and toward balance make a big difference.