Finding Balance

Let’s talk about the Vrksasana and the Adho Mukha Vrksasana, also known as the Tree Pose and the Handstand.

There is an aspect of Zen where you train the body to do and disconnect the mind. In martial arts, there is the Mushin, which is the state of letting your body take over while the mind is not occupied with the details of the physical process.

If your conscious mind keeps telling your body to do a thing, eventually, your body will do that thing without the conscious mind having to tell it to do it. An example, for most people, would be standing. If you were told to stand somewhere, you don’t have to engage your conscious mind to get all the physical things involved in standing done. You just tell your body to do it, and it does it quite automatically.

For most, there isn’t a conscious thought that goes into keeping your body from falling. You have taught your unconscious mind to do this task, and it takes care of it.

For most people, when they first try the tree pose, they can’t keep it up for that long. This is because the muscles involved in making the balance happen are different than just standing. In fact, when you move to the handstand, none of the muscles that have been trained to keep balance are used anymore, so maintaining a handstand is initially a very difficult task.

So how do you learn to do either of these things?

There is a zen koan titled, “Wash your bowl.” I leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the koan, because it comes up in different ways, but the fundamental message is the same, and it is there that we understand how to do either the tree pose, or the handstand.

The message of the koan is, you learn by doing, not by thinking.

If you have done the tree pose, then you know that the first time you do it, you can feel your weight go to the ball of your foot, and your foot is pushing awkwardly on your leg. Balance doesn’t come easily, and it takes lots of thought to keep yourself upright for a few seconds before readjusting.

When you have done it for days, or weeks, or even years, it starts to feel different. Then one day, you can just concentrate on your breathing as you bring your body into the tree pose and sit there comfortably as long as you wish.

The other day, my daughter was practicing her handstand, which she has been working on for more than a year, and she just held the handstand as we watched an intense scene on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Her mind was focused on the show, and after the scene was over, she realized that she was in a handstand and started yelling at me, “Dad, look at my handstand! How long have I been in a handstand?”

This is the zen mind. She wasn’t thinking, rather she was doing, and letting the rest take care of itself.