Yoga Talk about balance and emptying out

This morning (Friday 24th of March 2023) before class I had a brief conversation with a nice man who comes to class regularly. We discussed the concept of balance, and how finding and maintaining balance can feel like a challenge. Especially when a lot is going on in life and you feel quickly cooked. 


The topic related to the intention that I had for this class. I was inspired by a lovely conversation between J. Brown and Dona Holleman about the practice of yoga (and a lot more). Dona Holleman (81) practiced with Iyengar in the early days in Gstaad Switserland. When elaborating on the physical practice of yoga, asana practice, she used the metaphor of a full cup. She said: when the body is tensed, full, there's no space for learning something new. It is like a full cup. The body first needs to soften, rest and empty out before it can take in anything new. I thought this was a wonderful advice for basically any situation in life. However, it's a difficult one since we learn how to do, work, engage and achieve, but rarely how to unwind, rest and empty out. (Read the zen story about the full cup.)


Peter Blackaby, one of the yoga teachers I practice with for about 3 years now, always invites us to become quiet and at ease before we move again. To find the ground and to feel how the muscles soften. And when this is not entirely possible, he invites us to organize ourselves in such a way that there will be more ease in our embodied experience. This practice of emptying out and finding a sense of rest and comfort, feels sometimes more important than the movement or postures we explore. 


For anyone who is familiar with Feldenkrais, the rest taking will sound logical. In a Feldenkrais class you will explore a movement, and rest. Explore another movement, and rest. This approach blew me away when I was exposed to it years ago. The organization of rest and ease, was the real novelty for my nervous system.  


This is why I love to offer a lot of rests in between the moments of movement in the yoga classes that I teach. And it is perhaps in finding the rythm of emptying out and filling up again, where the balance flies in. 


Emptying out has to do with letting go of tension, it is about dropping, releasing, becoming loose, soft, open, at ease, centered. And this takes time, it's not something we can do on command. Another wonderful teacher I met online lately, Catherine Annis, shared in one of her online classes that I attended that the practice of yoga and meditation invites an ability to draw her into that place of ease. "There´s no way to push towards this, I cannot pull myself into ease." We need to offer it time, observe sensations, allowing ourselves of being with whatever that is and arises.  


Another thing I notice is that the process of emptying out may today be totally different from tomorrow because of different circumstances. When a lot is going on in your life, when you deal with difficult situations, the cup may fill quickly and it may take time to let go of it all. And when you find yourself in a period of ease and joy, the cup may feel large, with a lot of space for whatever flies in, and relatively easy to empty out again and find that sense of rest, quiet and ground. 


As I said, the emptying out was the new part of the game for me. I was far more familiar with the taking in, the filling up, and in a period of serious insomnia back in 2009 I drifted away from the possibility to relax and let go completely. Perhaps this is why the practice of emptying out and filling up, the practice of letting the balance be a movement, a flow of itself, resonates so deeply within me. 


Here are some suggestions for if you wish to explore a bit more what emptying out could mean to you in your yoga practice:

  • Before I start to move, I allow my body to become quiet. This may take some breaths, perhaps minutes. It also may ask for patience, an engaged and intended mind. 
  • I use the earth, the ground, for this. I consciously give myself to the ground, in child's pose or in lying on the back, any pose that supports the intention to rest. In giving myself to the ground as much parts of my body are finding the ground, from toes to crown. Props can be a nice help, for example a blanket under de head when lying on the back or a bolster (or your hands) under the forehead when in child. 
  • Often, tension exists in the shadow of our minds. By bringing it into the light, you create a possibility of consciously letting go. I rest my undivided attention in my body, in different body parts, consciously softening and letting go. 
  • The practice of giving weight works very well for me. As I exhale I sense my body print becoming deeper. The relationship with the earth becomes deeper.
  • If you are a visual person and you like lying on a beach you may imagine you are resting on warm white sand and the holes your body weight create become deeper and deeper with every breath. 
  • I think it's Lisa Petersen who in one of her somatic classes, weaved in the image of a snowball. I use it often in class because I love it: watch how all the snow flakes, all bodily sensations, gradually settle, find the ground, rest. Observe how the snowball becomes cristal clear and quiet. Perhaps the only thing left for a few moments is a deep intimite sense of being alive.
  • When I start moving again I try to explore if there is a possibility of bringing that sense of ground and ease with me.   

I hope this post may be of support to you, in your practice of yoga and in navigating life as it unfolds for you. 

Never hesitate to contact me should you have any questions, sharings or concerns. 


Be well, with love, Astrid 



Conversation with Dona Holleman:

Catherine Annis:

Lisa Petersen:

Peter Blackaby: 


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