The Balancing Act
We’re often pulled in many directions, as we juggle work and family responsibilities. We may feel stressed. Sometimes things get neglected. Like taking care of ourselves. Perhaps we feel anything but balanced. Maybe we’d like to lose a few pounds, have time for hobbies or creative pursuits, be able to spend more quality time with our children or partner, or just not feel exhausted all of the time.
Balance is depicted in various ancient cultures and spiritual traditions. One of the most recognized symbols of this is the yin-yang of Taoism. Balance is pictured in the mandalas of Hinduism and Buddhism, and in the Medicine Wheels of Native Americans. These sacred symbols illustrate balance as an essential aspect of wholeness, and many ancient traditions point to balance as a key to a full and happy life.
Balance is going to look a little different for each of us. There’s no formula that works for everyone. However, we can look at 3 areas in life where we can support greater balance. By raising awareness in these areas, we can increase our health and well-being. Some of this may be familiar, but reminders can be helpful!
Balance in body
Balance in mind
Balance in energy
Balance in Body – Activity and Rest. For most of us, our regular daily activities do not provide our bodies enough physical exercise to stay in good health long-term. Much of it is due to the nature of our work. We’re often sitting for long periods of time. Or the movements we do engage in are limited or repetitive. Our bodies need a variety of movements to stay well, movements that strengthen as well as stretch, and movements that increase our cardiovascular health. These movements bring other benefits as well, such as releasing feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, which elevate mood, building strong bones (preventing osteoporosis as we get older), boosting our immune system and reducing aches and pains.
(Our bodies, of course, also need nutritious food to be well. Finding balance in what we eat deserves its own blog post [another time!]. )
Our work and usual activities often do not meet our needs for physical activity, so we have to be intentional about adding movement, whether it’s walking or yoga, riding bikes, dancing, hiking, swimming or gardening.
It’s helpful to:
Start small – You might make a plan to walk for 30 minutes twice per week, or take an hour yoga class once per week. Or even smaller, such as a 15 minute stroll around the block. Remember, you can always build on your intention or plan. The benefit of starting small is we’re more likely to accomplish what we set out to do and stick with it. The key is being consistent.
Be specific and choose a time – Maybe it’s taking the group exercise class at your gym that meets at 6:00pm on Thursdays. Or walking for 30 minutes during your lunch break on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Add it to your calendar – Just like a doctor’s appointment, work meeting or any other important event, schedule in your movement activity. It is time you are setting aside for your health and well-being. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s much more likely to get crowded out, pushed aside and neglected for other activities.
Find a friend -- Having a friend or family member to share in the movement can help keep us motivated. They can provide support, encouragement and accountability. It can also simply be more fun!
We also need rest. Just like there is balance of day and night, in addition to being active, our bodies need sufficient time to replenish and recharge. This includes getting enough sleep. As adults, are we getting the minimum 7-8 hours of sleep that is recommended? Questions can be helpful as we explore balance. Do we feel stiff and achy from sitting too long? Are we gaining weight? Do we need that triple shot mocha to wake up in the morning? Remember, there’s no need to judge ourselves. It’s simply about raising awareness, taking notice how we feel in our bodies, and having a place to start to bring in more balance.
Balance in Mind – Focus and Space. To find greater balance in mind involves having directed focus, as well as openness and space for new growth. It’s beneficial to have goals to work towards, whether work-related goals, creative endeavors, or goals for personal development. Goals provide focus and direction, helping us feel grounded and giving us a sense of purpose. They can be comforting guideposts along life’s winding path.
Balance includes giving ourselves space to learn and grow. Perhaps it’s learning a new skill or being willing to step into the shoes of another person to see things from his or her perspective. A balanced mind remains open to alternative viewpoints.
We can also bring in balance by giving ourselves some space from technology. Technology might occupy 5, 9, 12+ hours per day. Yikes! It’s recommended that we spend no more than about 5 hours per day in front of a screen to stay well. Do we give ourselves necessary time to unplug? Do we make time to enjoy the outdoors? Nature is a powerful antidote for overwork and stress. When we breathe in fresh air and view the natural scenery, it has an immediate calming effect on our central nervous system. It’s in nature that we remember, life is not all about emails, spreadsheets, presentations, phone calls, the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, Facebook posts, or reading blogs (but I’m glad you’re reading this one!). As we observe the leaves falling from the trees, watch the squirrels scurrying to gather their nuts, and hear the birds calling to their mates, we remember life is bigger than us, and it’s everywhere. Life is going on around us all the time, and we’re a part of it.
Balance in Energy – Strong and Gentle. More than any other form of balance, the ancient sacred symbols illustrate balance of energy. When we look again at the yin yang symbol, the white and black represent life’s seeming opposites – day/night, assertive/yielding, masculine/feminine, logical/intuitive, strong/gentle. The two energies are encompassed within a circle, held in oneness. Likewise, each of us has the capacity to hold both energies. Regardless of gender, each of us has qualities associated with the “masculine” and with the “feminine.” For instance, each of us can be both logical and intuitive, assertive and yielding, strong and gentle.
As we think about energy, we might imagine it as fire or light. Sometimes fire rages strong and fierce, tearing through a forest, burning everything in its path. The intensity of it can light up the whole night sky. Other times fire is more contained, gentle, even comforting, like the relaxing glow of candlelight.
To work towards greater balance in energy includes recognizing the oneness and honoring our capacity to hold both strength and gentleness. It is also about taking an honest look at ourselves and making adjustments as we become aware of areas in our energy that are out of balance.
For example, do we frequently come off strong and say things we later regret? If so, can we soften a bit and be more gentle in our communication approach? Do we often have a hard time saying no to others? Then, can we muster our strength and set healthy boundaries?
Do we feel like we’re always on the go, caught up in a flaming whirlwind? For more balance, can we give ourselves time to go inward and do some quiet reflection? Do we frequently feel lethargic? Can we stoke the flames and put our hopes and dreams in action?
I discussed 3 areas of life where we can strive to have more balance – body, mind and energy. There are other areas open for exploration, as well, such as in our emotions, our relationships, or parenting.
The balancing act can sometimes be challenging, but the benefits are many. As we continue to put effort towards balance, we will be able to enjoy a well-rounded, healthy, happy life.
Do you take nature walks, play music, read a good book, ride horses? What do YOU do to help you feel balanced?