Those who are out of balance would have to make an enormous effort to maintain their postures upside down. In fact it takes a lot of effort to maintain these postures right side up, but since the stress is constant they feel "normal." Balance is a prerequisite for getting the full benefits of hatha yoga. For us, it is the missing link.
In No More Aching Back, Dr. Leon Root says repeatedly, "I strongly believe, along with many other experts who treat back problems, that the great majority of back pains are related to poor posture." The problem is that the conventional directions for "good posture" take us farther and farther from balanced weight distribution. For safety and comfort, the pelvis has to be recentered.
Let's return to our example of modern posture (Fig. 3). And let's add this photo of me in 1979 in India studying with Mr. Iyengar (Fig. 5). As you can see, I was woefully out of balance. My pelvis is thrust forward. I have a swayback (excessive lordosis) in my lower spine necessitating an increased forward curve in the rib cage (thoracic) area. My head is too far forward. My legs are not vertical, my knees are hyperextended, and you can see the tightness in my leg muscles.

And since these photos are examples of how most of us stand and move in our daily lives, they show the musculoskeletal situations with which we begin our asana practice. In 1979, I couldn't see any of this. What I can see in the picture is my desire to understand what Mr. Iyengar was teaching.

Ironically, as I write this, I remember Mr. Iyengar teasing me one day, saying, "You want to know the secrets of yoga." I felt frustrated.

I could see that his yoga was relaxed, while mine was tense. In his everyday life, Mr. Iyengar was balanced; I was not.

Ten years ago I began to experiment with balance, and in the past three years I have traveled to Portugal three times, as well as to Costa Rica, Mexico, and Bali, to study people who live in balance. As I began to change my own posture, I felt so much better that I was compelled to pass what I had learned on to my yoga students. And literally from one week to the next, they would come back and say things like, "When I did what you taught, my back felt better," or "My hip pain was relieved," or "My knee felt better." These comments took me by surprise, but they encouraged me to teach more balance. And the more I taught, the more we all got better. Today my work is teaching balance and hatha yoga. What I am about to teach here is vastly different from the directions commonly given for standing "correctly." I confess I am worried. Not about the validity of what I am about to write. Balance is extremely reliable. I am concerned that the material will be hard to convey. If I can get you to comprehend the instructions, you are going to feel so curvy you will think the way you are standing cannot be correct. You are going to be surprised and probably not believe that this could be it. Know that the more unbelievable you feel, probably the better you are getting it. Balance is based on observations of populations who do not suffer from back or joint pain. They get pain from diseases, poor diets, and accidents, but they don't get pain from gardening, sitting, carrying children, sneezing, bending, or everyday movements. The directions that follow are based on postures and movement patterns that these people share. The guidelines are specific and concrete, and will completely recenter your physical body.

Next Page: "How to stand in Balance." 1, 2, 3, 4, 5