One of my favorite instructions from buddhist teachings is to always seek a response to the moment that leads us closer to a state of balance. This spare and lovely instruction beautifully simplifies matters at hand, helping us to clarify our actions and intentions.
Not sure whether to stay up until midnight or head to bed at nine? Ask yourself which will create a deeper state of clarity and ease in your life, not just tonight but tomorrow and next month, too. Stumped about what to eat for breakfast? Ask yourself what will leave you feeling more balanced and clear. Not sure whether to utter those words that are on your lips? Consider the consequences.
The beauty of this is that while there may be one right answer - move in the direction of balance - there is no single way to get you there. My "right" answer, the answer that brings me closer to balance, to any of the questions above might be very different from yours.
And the beauty of that is that no one knows the "right" answer for you but you. That leaves you beautifully off the hook - no one can tell you that you're wrong, because they don't know as well as you do what your inner state of being may be. It also leaves us shockingly on the hook, for the very same reason. Figuring out what is right is totally up to you.
Yoga practice offers a perfect opportunity to practice this art of seeking the middle way. When you climb onto your mat, spend a few moments observing your inner state - your thoughts, your feelings, your energetic mood. And then ask yourself what sort of practice you could create that helps move your toward a more balanced way of moving and breathing, toward a feeling of deeper contentment and equanimity.
This is an experiment, of course, and figuring out what poses and practices lead you in the direction you'd like to go is a lifetime's journey. You keep asking, refining, changing course, making corrections, each step, each pose along the way.
A good start is simply to consider whether balance calls on you to create more energy in your body or to ease a little energy out of it. Do you need to pump a little more air into the balloon of you life in order for it to be perfectly inflated, or do you need to release a little? Or, if you were a typical American, would you be begging for a cup of coffee right now, or a glass or Merlot?
Yogis sometimes use the term brahmana to describe practices and poses that build energy, and langhana to describe practices that pacify energy. Use those two opposites as landmarks that help you guide your practice. In need of a little energy? Somewhere along the way you might practice standing poses or backbends or postures that accentuate the inhalation. Or are you so stirred up inside that pacification sounds just right? Include forward bends, and slow sweeping movement, moments of rest, and lots of exhalations.
It's not quite this simple in practice, of course. Balance is dynamic and ever-changing. And as poet Louise Gluck says, "The extremes are easy. Only the middle is a puzzle." But thinking in this way of building energy or calming energy will head you off on the journey in a beautiful way.
And before long, you'll be looking not just at every posture in your life as an opportunity to move toward balance, but every breath and every moment, too.