Nature Hates a Vacuum

Nature hates a vacuum. This was the very first lesson I remember learning in my physical sciences class as a kid, and that lesson has stuck with me ever since. In fact, I see this lesson being demonstrated over and over again all around me.

 

Whether it is water filling a hole in the ground, blowing up a balloon and letting it go to fly around or the weather, nature always seeks a balance. Water rushes around and levels itself off. High and low pressure systems move across the globe either pushing out existing weather, or pulling it in. Nature just “knows” that seeking equilibrium keeps the world moving smoothly.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

Nature likes balance and we are a product of nature. When we chase after some new fad or some extreme fast/instant change, we can throw ourselves out of balance. And when we are out of balance with ourselves, we are out of balance with nature and everyone around us.

 

Today’s example for this post centers on chasing fads. Whether it’s the next super food, the next ab ripping 5 second work out or how to get the perfect mate, there’s so much being thrown at us in a truncated form that it is easy to be taken out of context. And that is where we run the risk of getting thrown out of balance; when things are taken out of context or with incomplete information. Ironically, this is the norm in today’s information overloaded world.

 

 

 

 

 

Nature seeks balance; even in nature too much of a good thing is bad. Trees convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.  That’s good. More trees produce more oxygen. That also sounds good. But too many trees eventually lead to forestation that is too dense to support healthy trees. This results in weak trees that spend more energy fighting for survival, nutrients and resources than they do converting CO2 to O2.

Image courtesy of Mikenorton; Rainforest canopy at the Forestry

Image courtesy of Mikenorton; Rainforest canopy at the Forestry

 

The same is true with humans. We’re like the forest. For us to prosper and grow, we need to maintain a healthy balance within so that we don’t end up clogging our energy and limiting our own growth. An excessive desire to acquire or achieve something (money, sex, my personal favorite, “enlightenment”) will eventually lead to a path of cutting out opportunities for true growth in favor of the focused, exclusive pursuit material or ego based desires. This can include cutting out our support networks of friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t to say that desires or goals are bad, they certainly aren’t. It’s focusing on them in such a narrowed fashion to the exclusion of everything else that becomes potentially unbalancing. I’m not talking about the type of drive where someone pushes through the naysayers to accomplish something fantastic or a life’s dream. What I am talking about is the chasing of the latest sparkly thing. Kale is a super food. Now every meal I eat has kale in it. Now the super food is coconut oil so every meal must have coconut oil in it and all the kale gets pitched out.

Image courtesy of creoleindc.typepad.com.

Image courtesy of creoleindc.typepad.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the key to balance (and therefore a bit of harmony) is moderation, acceptance and the occasional splurge. I think of it like this;

 

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

I am standing in the middle of a massive tornado with everything flying around me at break neck speed. If I move toward any of those things flying around me (people, food, pleasure, desires, etc.) I risk getting pulled into the twister where I get tossed and whirled around until it spits me out. Staying centered doesn’t mean staying in one spot. The winds are dynamic and ever changing, as are the forces and desires in our lives. To stay centered sometimes means having to move off center in one direction to avoid getting pulled too far in another. You know, to balance things out.

 

 

 

 

 

Realizing that, and accepting it without judgment, is one of the most difficult lessons I’m learning. This is also where, from my observations/experience, people tend to go awry. Sometimes the seeking of balance and only balance keeps someone rooted where they are, and when the “winds of change” sweep in, they get swept away.

 

The opposite also happens quite often. In trying to always remain centered, there is so much “motion” and adjustment that there is never any time allowed for settling. I tried this approach, and it really didn’t work for me. In fact, that was a period of time where I was most out of balance with myself, those around me and the world at large. I was so busy trying to be all “Zen” and balanced, I missed the whole point of harmony and balance.

 

How you find balance is a whole world of self-discovery, self-observation (compassionately), and a lot of trial and error. For me, the journey hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been very worthwhile. I believe that when in balance with yourself, you can be in balance with others and the universe.

Image courtesy of David Flowers

Image courtesy of David Flowers

Essential Tips for Beginning Yoga Students

Yoga can be intimidating. Walk in to a class filled with bendy, twisty, super in shape people with designer clothes, personalized mats and a language of their own. Throw in the Sanskrit, chanting and occasional harmonium and it can feel like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of wisdomquarterly.blogspot.com.

 

My first few yoga classes were unsettling to say the least. Incense, strange musical instruments (the harmonium), lots of Sanskrit chanting and a little bit of over-sharing were what met me. But with some encouragement, I kept going back and today, I’m comfortable in that environment, chanting, Sanskrit over-sharing and all, even if I don’t always participate.

 

I thought about what might have made my entrance into this world a little less traumatizing, and I’ve written a brief Beginner’s Guide to Yoga to (hopefully) help others with the transition. I’ve broken this down into three sections; Entering the class, During the class and Leaving the class.

 

 

Entering the class

  1. The Yoga teacher will be friendly; genuinely friendly, it isn’t a mugging or a con.
  2. The funny smell tickling your nose is incense, it’s supposed to calm your energy; it still makes me sneeze.
  3. The front of the room is for the people who want to be seen typically; beginners are better off moving to the sides; it’s a great vantage point and the whole class won’t be looking at your butt.

    Image courtesy of NazarethCollege    / Flickr.

    Image courtesy of NazarethCollege / Flickr.

  4. Grab props (blocks and a blanket especially) if available, and if the teacher recommends anything else, grab that too; props are your friend.
  5. Introduce yourself to anyone who isn’t meditating or face down in some odd looking stretch. This is a community environment (most of the time).
  6. Don’t take it personally if someone you try to strike up a conversation with ignores you; Namaste!

 

 

 

 

During the class

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others in the class – some of them have been going for years, and looking around to see who is better is just going to distract from the purpose of yoga, being in the present.

    Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

  2. Be kind to yourself – yoga can be challenging, both physically and emotionally, accepting that every day is different and working to your best for that day is the best thing you can accomplish.
  3. Leave the outside world outside the door – for whatever time there is in class, forget the outside world and connect with yourself.
  4. Don’t worry about the sanskrit or the chanting – whether you choose to learn the sanskrit or develop/have an interest in chanting, neither is required for yoga.
  5. Yoga (unless otherwise stated in the class description) isn’t religiously affiliated. It promotes good, nice, friendly things (except for that person that ignored you in #6 above); you are not required to shave your head, get an Om tattoo or anything else that doesn’t feel comfortable.
  6. Be prepared to sweat. Yoga is hard work and uses muscles most beginners either forgot or didn’t know they had in the first place.

 

After the class

  1. Give yourself a minute before jumping up and running out. The first few classes can be very tough, and a good savasana can make you loopy in the head.
  2. Talk a moment and talk to the instructor; especially if the class felt comfortable to you. Learn to tell what makes a good class for you so you can find others like it. It’s also good to occasionally experience classes you don’t feel so good about so you know what to avoid.
  3. Ask questions about the teacher, the studio and other classes. Especially if you liked the class and the feel of the studio.
  4. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Water is your friend, especially if it’s a hot yoga class.
  5. Be ready to be a little sore later.
  6. Don’t take it too seriously – yoga is about personal growth and improvement. The most authentic and wisest people are also the funniest in my opinion. Laugh at yourself, laugh for no reason, laugh when you fall and laugh when you soar. Like Om, laughter is a universal sound. You don’t believe me; try not laughing when a baby starts giggling uncontrollably.

 

Yoga is different from other forms of exercise in many ways. It also has a number of similarities. My best recommendation is to go in with an open mind, ignore whatever is just too weird at the moment, be kind to yourself during the class and have fun. Worst case, someone looks at you like you are a barbarian because you eat meat. Best case, you find a new fun way to build your mind, body and spirit and quite possibly, make a new friend.

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Flickr

By MIT-Libraries [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of the unknown is a terrible reason not to do something. Not liking it after you’ve tried it is perfectly fine; you tried it. I have yet to find a yoga studio that kidnaps innocents out of the classes for brainwashing and robe fittings; at least they don’t do it on the first day. So try it out. You might just like it.