Was Sir Isaac Newton a yogi? Maybe not, but Newton’s third law of motion can be a useful concept to apply on your yoga mat. It states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. To translate that into yoga terms, we might say that equal effort to move energy in opposite directions creates balance.

A Balanced Warrior

The warrior poses are a good choice for exploring this idea. Virabhadrasana III, warrior three, is the most obvious example. Standing on one leg, the torso, arms and raised leg align parallel to the floor. The momentum of the pose appears to be forward, in the direction of the extended arms. However, the raised leg must be actively stretching back to keep you from tilting or falling forward, In fact, since most of the body is forward of the standing leg, the raised leg works harder than the upper body in order to equalize the energy and create balance.

As you prepare to move into warrior three, keep this final balance in mind. If the back leg actively extends from the first moment you shift the rest of your weight forward, it will be easier to find balance. Keep your focus on the effort of the raised leg and see if the pose feels more stable.

Though it appears to be a less dynamic pose, the same idea applies in virabhadrasana II, warrior two. Our effort tends to be in the direction of the bent knee and the turned head. The upper body often leans to that same side, and the pose becomes unbalanced. To counteract that, the straight leg on the opposite side has to exert effort equal to the energy in place on the bent knee side. Then the upper body becomes more upright, and there is balance.

A Balanced Tree

A final example for this approach is vrksasana, tree pose. Though it looks simple, finding balance can be very challenging. Next time you practice vrksasana, note how the raised foot presses into the opposite thigh. Apply the same amount of effort from the outer thigh and hip of the straight leg back toward that foot. If the raised foot and the straight leg use the same amount of energy, the “trunk” of the tree will be stable, allowing you to find lift and extension in the upper body without losing your balance.

This equal and opposite direction of effort comes into play to some extent in every yoga asana. Look for it, emphasize it, and see what happens to your poses as a result. You may find they become more stable, balanced and expressive. It’s one way that the application of science makes yoga look like an art.