What is balance?
How do I achieve it?
What does it look like?
These are questions that people often have about building a life of balance, simply because so many of us don’t have it. Our culture in North America is very focused on extremes. Work a lot, spend a lot, eat a lot, do a lot of wacky things to go viral online, restrict this food group, kill yourself in the gym, and so on. I remember when I worked in a convenience store during my first year of University. I was stocking magazines for the first time and I looked at the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. And of course there was a HUGE GUY with HUGE MUSCLES and one of the headlines was something about a WORKOUT THAT WILL MAKE YOU PUKE and I thought…why the hell would you want to do that?? Unfortunately, the mentality of ‘no pain, no gain’ and ‘go hard or go home’ is pervasive in the fitness community and it’s not very helpful in the long-term. I am definitely not knocking people who push themselves to their limits, especially for competitions. I am in awe of what I have seen people do and I envy them for being able to do it. But to go into the gym with the intention of working out so hard that you end up seeing your breakfast again? No thanks. That’s not healthy, either physically or mentally.
Oftentimes, people think that if they listen to their body and allow it to tell them what it needs or can do that day, they will end up laying on the couch and eating box after box of chocolate or mac and cheese right out of the pot. I mean, that does kind of sound fun, but when you learn to add habits into your balance, your body learns to expect certain things like vegetables and water and movement. It’s amazing what you can build when you are intentional about it.
For me, because I live with so many chronic health conditions, I have no choice but to listen to my body constantly. Last Monday my shoulder was killing me and so I didn’t go to yoga on Tuesday morning. Today my shoulder was fine and I went to yoga. If I’m having digestive issues I might go to the gym instead of running. And if I didn’t sleep well last night, I might go back to bed for a couple hours while my son is at school because I know it will be better for both of us when he gets home.
My version of balance takes the long view. I might not be able to lift one day but can in a few. I might be able to run today but not in a few days. If I can’t exercise today, I will do something else that fosters balance and self-care, like reading a novel with a cup of coffee or space out watching baseball later because I just need to recharge.
I am currently reading a book on the philosophy of yoga and I found this quote in it the other day:
It really struck me, because it urges us to find guidance in ourselves. To look inside and see what balance means to us and consider all the facets of who we are when we look for balance today. Today’s balance may look different than tomorrows. And that is totally ok! Take nutrition for example. It would be great if every day was awesome and you got all your veggies in and drank a ton of water and ate whole grains only. But we all know that every day isn’t like that. Some days you just order pizza for dinner because you.are.so.done.omg. Some days you have a big salad for dinner. Sometimes you’re feeling unwell and don’t eat much of anything or just crackers and toast. And that is totally fine. Don’t judge your nutrition by one day. Look at your whole week. I bet it will balance out over that period of time. Mine usually does.
So what exactly is balance then? For me it is giving my body what it currently needs that will support my health in the long run. It means resting when it’s needed. It’s also moving your body intentionally when you can and want to. Sometimes it’s pushing through, but it’s not doing it to the detriment of your health as a whole. It means having veggies with your dinner but enjoying birthday cake at a party too. It’s about enjoying life, not being a slave to plans.
All parts of us come together to make the whole. Physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Think about all of these things when you are building your balance. Shape a life that supports all the facets of who you are. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Fostering your spirit is just as important as eating well. Who you are matters when it comes to balance. So build your balance, do it intentionally, and see what it helps you achieve.