On balance, we don't seem to be paying much attention to actually keeping it these days. Think about it - imbalance shows up virtually everywhere we look as many of us lean heavily left or right on a whole host of issues, never mind that some of us simply lean bodily to one side or the other...period.
It can get personal. Of course, there's the work-life challenge we face almost every day. Balancing the demands of work with the demands and desires of home along with our personal needs can indeed have us teetering on the edge and losing it all. Return to work or telecommute? Then there's that ever-present angel and devil catfight that has our id and superego in constant turmoil over living in the moment versus grinding it out for a better future. We even struggle with measuring our words - communicating a message, especially when we're really fired up, can easily become a cortisol cocktail if we don't sound just-the-right tone and strike just-the-right notes.
Balance requires the use of our senses if we're to stay upright and avoid falling - whether to the ground or for some false premise (try balancing on one foot, for example, with your eyes closed). Measured, balanced, centered positions that allow for flexible movement along a continuum of possibilities is desirable but, on most issues, woefully absent from our everyday lives. Just observe our political leaders, for example. Instead, we often dig our heels inside the echo chambers we choose that will most always agree with us and reinforce our notion of what's normal (balance).
Guess what? It's sucking the oxygen out of us as we repel attacks and opposing forces from all directions while we do our own share of flame-throwing at those who don't agree with us. I mean - everything seems to be a contentious issue these days? Everything. Where does it all begin and end?
Well, this might surprise you, but the place it begins is squarely in the center of you. Literally.
We learn very early on that life is a balancing act of sorts when we struggle to stand upright, stay balanced, and walk for the first time. Just a few years later, we take our seat on a bicycle and learn to keep that two-wheel vehicle moving forward without the training wheels guiding the way. Wobbly and erratic, we eventually figure out how to balance our weight as we speed off for new horizons. You won't remember the first steps you took, but archived photos will show you. It was pure joy to stand tall and move your body. We felt the same sensation when we first took "flight" on our bikes. In each case, we needed the physical strength to exert a stable force strong enough for us to remain balanced and, thus, upright. In each case, we found our center of gravity. And, in each case, the early experiences we had with the stability-mobility relationship that balance requires provided a precursor to the powerful impact this relationship would continue to have in virtually every facet of our future lives - from the physical to the cognitive to the emotional. Here's how.
We don't seem to pay much attention to our physical balance until later in life when we begin to actually lose it. Meanwhile, balance still remains at the core of virtually all that we engage in - voluntarily and unwillingly - as our physical bodies seek homeostasis and our minds work to reduce the ever-cognizant mental "noise" that occupies space in our heads. We go about living our lives, often out of mindless habit, trying to unconsciously balance the multiple demands that pull us in competing directions. The more we reside in our own echo chambers - favorite news channels, social media groups, and go-to periodicals - the more we become imbalanced. As for our physical bodies, subtly, often even imperceptibly, we develop maladaptive movement patterns triggered by muscle imbalances and postural distortions (sitting for too long, performing repetitive movements, compensating for injuries, holding stress in our shoulders, etc.) that "re-write software" in our nervous systems in order to "re-gain" our balance. In due time, this new "software" leads to muscle tears, joint dysfunction and eventual replacement. Sadly, we stop listening to our bodies. We stop moving our bodies, too, as the insidious sedentary lifestyle that has become the contemporary way of life wreaks havoc on our health and well-being. And - wouldn't you know it - old age arrives sooner than is necessary...because we've lost our balance.
Recent research results in the personal fitness field emphasize the critical importance of stability and mobility in any exercise routine. Stabilization occurs when a muscle remains in a contracted (isometric) position that allow muscles around this stabilizer to perform their work. The primary stabilizers are the core muscles - internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, etc. - and they, along with the gluteal complex, hold our center of gravity that we all strive to maintain. Stabilization is the steel rod in the ground that holds an object in place. Mobility, on the other hand, is exhibited in joint movement along the continuum of balance - the branch that sways from the stabilizing trunk in a windswept breeze. The stronger and more mobile one is, the more balanced one is as well. To be both stable and mobile allows one to move in a coordinated fashion while rarely falling out of balance. The opposite holds true as well - weak stabilizers make balance all the more challenging, and immobile joints invite falls. Think: posture. Think: infants. Think: the elderly. Think: everyday life. It's really no different.
It's really no different in most other dimensions of our lives, either. We seek balance in these various dimensions, and we're successful to the degree that we are stable in our core values and flexibly strong in our sway outside our comfort zones. In fact, the more we are able to move along the continuum and remain balanced, the wider our comfort zones become. We become more open to new ideas, entertaining them without necessarily accepting them and emulating what Aristotle once professed long ago - that "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it." Wow - what a novel concept in today's hypercritical world.
So what's this all mean? The presence of stability and mobility in a physical sense is no less important than their presence in every other aspect of our lives. Remaining "centered" and standing flexibly strong amidst the surrounding chaos is the result of stable core values that can bend without breaking. Lacking them makes us unstable, immobile, "out of whack" and losing control. We forfeit our balance in such times. And such times seem to occur often these days.
How can we become more balanced? In a physical sense, this requires a balanced focus on isometrically strengthening core stabilizers while concentrically (and eccentrically) strengthening prime mover musculature. Likewise, in the emotional and cognitive spheres, we need to identify what truly drives us - what we stand for and why - and then allow our "core" principles to hold us steady when life's challenges require us to push and pull against the obstacles that invariably appear along our paths. It's these very obstacles that provide the stress on our core principles, and what doesn't break us surely makes us stronger. The stronger and more mobile we are, the more capable we are to remain balanced while stretching our comfort zones to meet the challenges that may test our balance. So, in a very real sense, we need these obstacles in our way as they offer opportunities for us to become stronger and more stable. The obstacle becomes the way.
Friedrich Nietzsche once professed that ”there is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” Metaphorically speaking, the body never lies. We simply need to listen, to remain attuned to the dynamic interplay of internal and external forces. Living intently and not reflexively, with the intention of allowing our core principles to keep us centered, should be the objective. In a very real sense, then, achieving balance is really about strengthening our core...values and obliques. So, yes, the place this begins is squarely in the center of you. Literally.