First things first: what, exactly, is equanimity?
There are so many definitions of this term – and it’s an important one in yoga. So let’s go right to the source.
Patanjali tells us in the very first chapter of the Yoga Sutra that equanimity is “the willingness to observe experience without getting caught in reactivity to it”. We can also look at it from a Latin perspective: “equanimity” comes from “aequanimitus”, where aequus means equal and animus means mind. Equanimity is a balanced mind and heart. It’s stepping away from a situation that pushes your buttons and observing why you’re tempted to react. It’s letting life meet you just where you are, instead of pushing anything away or grasping for any particular outcome.
It’s also really, really hard.
I’ve noticed this a lot in my own life as the season has been changing. Fall’s in full force, my classes have been ramping up in intensity, I got a wicked cold (despite all of my good advice on holistic cold remedies!), and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things on my to-do list. In response to all of these crazy, different stressors, I’ve gotten more reactive: less patient, less generous with my time, and – strangely enough – worse at managing the time I do have. Because I’ve been expending so much energy rushing around, feeling impatient, and working myself into a frenzy, it’s hard to settle into a yoga class, quiet my mind enough to do any writing, or slow down to have genuine connections with the people I love.
I’ve been caught up reacting to situations (like traffic on the way to yoga), grasping for certain situations to happen (a free afternoon to read a book), and pushing other situations away (actual work). In response, I’ve felt crazy, frenzied, and not at all like myself.
But what if I biked to yoga peacefully, without feeling pressured to reach the studio in time for class? What if I stopped grasping for a certain outcome? What if I just let it happen?
What if I stopped longing for a free afternoon to read a book, and acknowledged that if I could quiet my mind enough to get all of my work done, the afternoon might just open up for me?
Things could be very different.
Now let’s talk about you. Where do you get caught up in reactivity? What pushes your buttons and drives you crazy? What are you grasping for? What are you pushing away?
What would it look like to just let those crazy and different things meet you right where you are? What if you tried to keep a calm, peaceful, balanced mind if they did? What if you just let them happen?
Maybe it would be good. Maybe it would even be great.
Life changes are big, and hard – or they can be small, subtle choices that you make to actively live your life a different way. Like Baron Baptiste, the founder of Baptiste yoga, says: “We don’t change by thinking; we change by being and doing with pure intent.”
Chew over the idea of equanimity. Think about it. Give it a try. And in the meantime, try the following five yoga poses to practice equanimity on your mat – which is always a good place to start bringing an idea into your life.
Challenge yourself: can you hold these poses for ten breaths? What about fifteen? What if you closed your eyes, focused on your breath, and lost track of time all together? Can you find a radiant space of complete stillness? Can you just let it happen?
Reclined Bound Angle Pose // Supta Baddha Konasana
Let go of your muscles and tension in this pose. Relax the tension in your forehead and around your eyes. Let your hips fall open without resistance – let the pose happen.
Allow your hips to tilt up towards the ceiling in this pose to relinquish any tension in your shoulder and neck. Let your gaze settle, soft but focused, right between your feet. Balance your weight evenly between arms and legs to settle right in the middle.
Garudasana // Eagle
Though this is a difficult balancing pose, don’t fight it. Between the cross of your legs and the twist of your arms, find a peaceful center. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and down your spine.
Virabhadrasana III // Warrior III
This pose becomes difficult when your stretch your arms forward and roll your lifted hip down. You’re grounded by a single foot – not so easy. Regardless, can you find a space of stillness and peace here?
Malasana // Garland Pose
Find a sense of greater grounding here with both feet firmly planted on the earth. Try to relax your shoulders and upper back enough so that they can open upwards. If your hips start to complain, try to cultivate non-reaction. Know that what you learn on the mat, you can always practice in your life.
May you be equanimous!
Anna Squires studies political science, journalism, and creative writing at Colorado College. There is nothing she enjoys more in a yoga class than laughing so hard she falls out of a pose, especially since then she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. She hails from Atlanta, GA.