Finding Balance

Following a yoga class I taught this past week, a student said to me, “I really need to work on my balance.” My response was, “Don’t we all?” I find that I am constantly working on balance- finding the right balance of screen time and active outdoor play for my children, of kale chips and potato chips, of exercise and indulgence, the right balance of work and rest, of spending and saving, of listening and sharing, of family time, date nights, social engagements and quiet solitude, and the right balance of staying informed versus getting totally consumed by the fear triggered by local and global news headlines.

As a person living with chronic pain, I especially struggle to balance making the necessary space for healing with the necessary moments that life demands I “push through.” Often I find that the moment I approach balance in any one of these areas, other areas become rocky. How do we balance self-care of the mind, body, heart, and soul? And how do we balance care of self with the care of family, friends, community, and this earth we inhabit? 

trees

Fortunately, we have a few brilliant examples of balance to learn from right before our eyes. In this autumnal season, we observe the beauty of balance in the natural world. As agricultural workers wrap up another bountiful harvest season in Adams County, trees prepare to go into dormancy as they release radiant fall colors back to the earth, and many animals prepare for hibernation. The changing leaves of autumn do not fight the pull of gravity- they let go, knowing that the blossoms and new life of spring can only come after the deep rest and rejuvenation of winter.

We observe another beautiful example of balance living within each of us, in the subtle, and most of the time involuntary rhythm of our breath.  Each inhale gives life, activates the sympathetic nervous system, increases our heart rate, and prepares us for fight or flight. Each exhale releases and softens, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, and preparing our bodies and minds to rest and digest. In mental health circles, we frequently hear about the myriad ways we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system because our modern bodies are so often living in a constant state of stress.

However, for a regulated nervous system, we need both. For our hearts to keep pumping, we need the inhale and the exhale. 

As I was recently reminded by an inspiring yoga teacher at the Love Your Brain Foundation, the only way to come into balance is to come from a place that is out of balance. Read that again. The only way to come into balance is to come from a place that is out of balance. This is just as true in every facet of our lives as it is in practicing tree pose.* If you are like me and feel like you are constantly working on balance, then maybe this is a helpful reminder that just like anything else in life, it’s not about the arrival, but the journey. I LOVE practicing balance poses in my daily yoga routine. But the fun part is the practice– standing perfectly still in tree pose for ten minutes wouldn’t be much fun at all. If we could do it without effort, then what would be the point of practicing? For just as body and mind are not always in a state of healthy regulation and the natural world also faces its fair share of instability, we too can only find balance by first becoming aware of the spaces in our lives which are out of balance and working slowly, gradually, and with self-compassion, toward equilibrium. 

If we’re lucky, we’ll experience moments that feel close to balanced in our lives, like that moment of accomplishment when we finally find focus and ease in a challenging balance pose, the next moment becoming distracted and wobbling over, giggling, ready to try again. Or the moment we smile to our partner over hot coffee on a morning following a little more rest than usual, while our children play quietly in the next room. We know this moment won’t last…but we notice it as special. Minutes later, a child cries “It’s not fair!” and then crashes, and squeals. A pause, an inhale, an exhale, some space, a calm conversation, a warm embrace. Perhaps the joy, the satisfaction comes in the work of finding balance, and the loving kindness we offer ourselves and others in our inevitable moments of imbalance.  

*Tree pose is a yoga posture to practice balance in which one stands on one foot while placing the sole of the other foot inside the opposite ankle, shin, or thigh and reaching arms overhead like the branches of a tree.

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Alli Crowell, RYT-200, is the owner of RISE Yoga, Gettysburg. She has 15 years of experience in K-12 education and currently works part-time as an instructional coach supporting teachers and school leaders throughout the United States. In addition to her 200 hour Yoga Alliance Certification, she is certified in Children’s Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Accessible Yoga and is trained as a facilitator through the Love Your Brain Foundation, a leader in research centered around the benefits of yoga and mindfulness for the brain injury community. Alli is a recent graduate of the Accessible Yoga School, a program centered in equity and accessibility in yoga instruction.

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Kathy Platzer
Kathy Platzer
6 months ago

Really thoughtful article, Allie.

Alli Crowell
Alli Crowell
6 months ago
Reply to  Kathy Platzer

Thank you Kathy!

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