On Balance

I always thought of balance as one of those inherent traits-you either had “good balance” or not, that it was an inner-ear thing, some people were blessed with it and some people weren’t. It was just that simple. 

This all changed one day at the gym. I was in my early twenties and coping with a painful breakup by running like Forrest Gump and obsessively working out, as if somehow making my body stronger would also strengthen my pummeled heart. A trainer told me to throw a 15 pound medicine ball back and forth with him while standing on a large stability ball. I thought he was insane.

“I don’t have that kind of balance,” I told him.

“You don’t ‘have’ balance, you create it. It’s a muscle thing, a core thing. Get your ass on the ball,” was his unsympathetic response.

I began by kneeling on wobbly legs while Brett yelled at me to “engage my core” and “use the f-ing muscles God gave me.” I bore an uncanny resemblance to a Weeble (remember those? "Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down"…except that I fell down. A lot. A whole lot.). I would get my knees where I wanted them, tentatively begin to rise, and after what seemed a millisecond, down I went. Over and over. 

Then one day, after weeks of working, I felt myself beginning to topple and I pushed back. I used my inner thighs. I used my core muscles. I pushed back. And while I didn’t stay up long, I did stay up longer. And it began to click. Oh. OH. Engage my core. Use the f-ing muscles God gave me. I began to see what Brett had been yelling about.

It took nearly three months of work before I was able to stand on that ball throwing weight around. But this lesson about balance is one that has stayed with me. Brett was yelling about my physical balance, of being able to stand on an unsteady surface and stabilize my body. But he was also giving me the best life advice ever.

Balance is a muscle thing. A core thing. It’s something we create. It’s something we work for, something we build.

We all talk constantly about “finding balance” in our lives. But balance isn’t something we can “find.” It’s something we create through work. Really hard work, actually. It requires that we recognize when we are beginning to tip too far in one direction and push back with strength and intention. But if we push back too hard, we don’t reach balance, we simply tip the other direction. When we begin, we shake and wobble and sometimes we don’t even know which muscles to use. It can be difficult to see through old habits, old patterns, to see what needs strengthening to keep us on the ball, or in that handstand, or in good health.

At the center of balance is our core. Strengthening our core, whether our core muscles or our core values, is the key piece to staying balanced. Like all of our other muscles, it can take some time to build strength and endurance here. To learn to recognize and say no to those things that weaken our core, that tip us off our ball, to bring awareness of how our choices impact our core and our balance. Last month I heard this little tidbit : “The quality of your ‘yes’ responses depends on the quantity of your ‘no’ responses.” How often do we say “yes” when we should say “no”? How often do we do this automatically, without careful consideration to whether it strengthens or weakens our ability to stay balanced, without careful consideration of how it affects our core?

We make a million decisions each day, some utterly minuscule and some big and obvious, that affect our balance. Stop looking for balance, stop hoping that it will be something you “find” as if it might miraculously appear around the next corner. Begin your wobbly journey of building those muscles, of engaging your core, today. You will fall more times than you can count and there will be bruises, but the more work you put in, the fewer tip-overs you will experience down the road. Begin now so that you can stand on the many unsteady surfaces that are inevitably a part of life and create stability regardless of how things shake.  

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