I've been talking to my classes and workshops a lot about this idea that we feed our imbalances. This is not a new concept. I first heard Roger Eischens talk about it in 1998. It comes up again and again. I know I've talked about it before. Repeatedly. But when you're ready to hear something, it doesn't matter how many times it has been said before.
So here I am with many, many students asking me what I mean by "we feed our imbalances" whenever I bring it up lately.
You recognize this truth in other aspects of life more easily. If you have an addiction, you will feed the addiction (addiction being an imbalance taken to its most dangerous and extreme). An alcoholic will crave more alcohol. A less dangerous example, but still unhealthy: if you crave sugar, you will eat more sugar which will set you up for a blood sugar crash which you will want to fix by eating more sugar. Feeding the imbalance. Literally.
The easiest physical example of this is when a student wants to "stretch out" their tight shoulders. Most folks with tight shoulders will then reach their arms forward, rounding their upper back and pulling their shoulder blades apart. That is an exaggeration of the shape of their upper back is already in from hunching forward over desks, computers, in cars, etc. Or they'll pull one arm across their chest using the other arm for leverage. Given that most folks already have shoulder blades that are pulled too wide apart across the back, this only takes the upper back further out of balance. To truly balance out the upper body, they'd need to open the chest and extend the collar bones, reaching their arms behind them. But on the rare occasion when I see someone actually do that, they immediately follow it with a stretching forward motion. Because leaving the chest open is so unfamiliar, they will return themselves to their imbalance. They feed the imbalance.
We choose yoga poses to practice on the mat based on how familiar they feel in the body. Most of us pick the poses and the practice that is easiest, the things we already can do. Not that anyone should hurt themselves, but in order to bring balance in to the body, you have to wake up that which is asleep. You have to get out of the familiar. And then try to stay in that new and unfamiliar place.
There are a multitude of examples of feeding the imbalance in your practice on the mat. If you feel unsteady, do you choose a narrower stance rather than a wider one in Wide Angle Forward Fold (Prasaritta Padotanasana)? Placing the feet wider actually makes it easier to balance. Flying through poses in a vinyasa class mimics a life lived from appointment to meeting to meeting to appointment. Finding it hard to get moving and then choosing to only practice a very slow yoga practice hardly puts you out of your comfort zone.
Again, I don't recommend throwing yourself into a practice for which you're not prepared. A very busy, quick-moving person needs to work toward slowing down gradually, adding a few more held poses here and there and learning to find peace in that stillness. The slow mover shouldn't force themselves into a hot vinyasa class but should add a few postures with briefer holding, more movement a bit at a time. And of course, pushing yourself into poses you're not ready for can cause injury. You have to figure out what muscles are overworked and slowly build strength in the muscles that haven't been working. And waking up those under-utilized muscles will be work.
So, allowing for any safety qualifier, are you feeding your imbalance?
Are you only doing what you already do?
When you find yourself in unfamiliar territory do you quickly "right yourself" putting yourself back into your comfortable imbalanced form?
This is how you work toward balance in your body and in your life. Our culture may say to find out what you do best and do more of it. But if you want balance, you need to start waking up the other parts of yourself.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.