Cultivating Balance in Work, Food, and Yoga.
The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.”
Lovely words, but they refer to something that is not simple or easy—balance.
I will admit that I’m not a superstar at balance. It’s something that I have to work on and an area in which I often feel I have/am falling short (falling… get it?). So, I write this post not from a state of expertise, but as someone who is trying to figure it out myself and working through it in an ongoing process.
In my own life, there are three primary areas where I notice balance cropping up again and again over the last few years. These are work/home life, relationship with food, and yoga.
The work/home element is probably the most thorny and its impacts on others most easily seen. My job is fairly high stress. It’s more than full time. I am expected to be available pretty much continually for serious issues that arise. This leads to me carrying a mobile phone with me at all times to receive emergency calls or crucial emails.
Wait. Look back at that last line. “Crucial emails” is what I said. If something is so crucial that I need to respond to it immediately on a Sunday afternoon, why would it come in an email? Why would it not be a phone call? Yeah, I don’t know either. But, I know that the line between crucial and somewhat important is very blurry.
I find that because I’m always “on” email and available via text, the pressure to respond very quickly to work issues and family issues has actually increased. I end up answering emails while having an evening out, during a conversation with my spouse, and even from bed.
This isn’t very good work/home balance. On the other hand, there are times when I’m at work and completely preoccupied with what I need to buy to fill school supply lists (maybe even shopping online), having a phone discussion with my spouse, or messaging with one of my kids.
This is also not so great.
For most of us, work is a necessity, but it also fulfills some of our non-fiscal needs for accomplishment, connection or impact.
Even if we could, we might not want to let it go. So, we have to continue to figure out how to balance the work and family realms of our lives, acknowledging that they cannot be kept completely distinct, but enacting each role mindfully at the times where we are engaged in it. It’s not easy.
With food, balance is also crucial. And, it can be equally difficult.
Over the last 32 years of my life, I’ve been on any number of “diets” that restricted a particular category of food (or limited diet to one or two items), starting with the “Cabbage Soup Diet” in 1979. Low carb, low fat, high carb, high fat, raw only, juice only, I’ve done it. And none of these extremes have ever really worked for me. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of weight over the years, but I’ve lost the same weight over and over. And I’ve ended up a person with some serious food issues.
Now, I’m a vegan. This may seem to some like a very extreme diet choice, but there are so many possibilities available for vegan eating, that I don’t think so. Even here, however, balance is needed. Vegans need to be sure, like everyone else, to consume a diet balanced in the nutrients, fats, and carbohydrates that lead to a healthy body.
I even would say that some balance is needed in the overall enactment of veganism, or any other food/life philosophy. Activism is great, and there is a place for it. But, lecturing a colleague who orders a turkey sandwich for lunch or railing at a vegetarian for not being vegan enough are unlikely to lead to anything but hostility and guilt – not so productive. A balance between advocacy for a dietary lifestyle you believe in and acceptance of other choices should be practiced.
And last, yoga. There is philosophical balance to be struck in yoga.
How much practice is healthy and can too much or too vigorous be harmful? How can we cultivate sangha without creating false gods or yoga cults? What ideas/philosophies serve you and which do not? What practice styles do I believe best suit me and how can I still respect other forms? Developing understandings and enactments of yoga require a negotiation of balance in a variety of ways.
Of course, there is also the physical issue of balance. This too is a struggle for me, literally. I find it difficult to balance. I think I always have, but it seems to be getting worse. Sometimes I can blame it on having rheumatoid arthritis and the pain associated.
For example, if my foot joints are inflamed, its very hard to maintain vrksasana (tree pose) because of the pain. But, I often find myself falling over in poses that seem less obviously problematic—virabhadrasana (warrior 1), parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle), parivrtta parsvakonasana (revolved side angle) and so on.
Some days in class, I feel that I spend a lot of time teetering over toward one side or the other, and probably distracting the heck out of the people around me. Is it age? Is it having RA? Is it the other balance issues I experience being embodied in my practice. I don’t know.
Balance is a challenge, but if we can achieve more of it, we can better stretch and grow in all directions, without losing any part of our lives or becoming overly attached to others.
So, back to where we started—Are you unbalanced? Yes, you are.
We never become really “balanced,” because the dynamic nature of being means a continual shifting. Remembering that is a balancing act as well.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.