The act of balancing is a constant affair of action and adjustment
The sun is shining down and its a summer afternoon. I’m willfully determined to learn to handstand. With my bare feet kissing the warm grass I prepare my body to be flipped upside down. In my minds eye I picture my body with my head below feet and in a straight line. I bow my head and splay my fingers on the ground. I gently push off with my legs and center my core above my hands. Splat! I fall into the hard earth. My intention is not sufficient to balance upside down. I stand back up and place my hands in position, visualize my ascent, and launch my legs into the air. This time teetering for a mere second before falling back to earth. Again and again, I push off until I can linger longer. Eventually my nervous systems learns the new position and I’m able to reflexively respond to the changes in my balance and thus able to maintain my handstands for several seconds.
As I handstand I’m never in a state of stillness, there is constant need for adjustment. It takes a greater deal of proprioception, or mind-body awareness to be conscious of where my body is, where the weight is placed, how gravity is affecting my stance, and which fine motor movements to make in order to respond to the changes of motion in such a way as to remain stable in a upside down positon.
Learning to handstand is a good metaphor for leading a balanced life because they work on a similar principle, a mindful awareness of the current conditions and the necessary adjustments to remain in balance. When hand standing I need to be aware of my body and the movement of my limbs that may need adjustment. When discussing balance in your our lives, you must be aware of many more factors. Factors that aren’t easily quantifiable and as obvious as the movement of a limb. There are many ways one can parse up the essential needs of a person to remain in healthy balance, but one such model relies on 5 factors: nutrition, socialization, mental stimulation, fitness, and emotional health/spirituality. These 5 core competencies are essential in any individuals health and wellness. In the following paragraph I will break down the 5 core competencies and hw they relate to health and balance.
The 5 core competencies of health and wellness:
You are what you eat! The nourishment from the food we consume is broken down and then forms the building blocks of your body. The food we eat has a direct relationship with our emotions, our energy levels, and our satisfaction in life. Eating is pleasurable, its a social activity with central importance in many cultures. Its integral to fueling your mind and body. Adequate nutrition is preventative for all diseases and essential in the total number of healthy years lived. When we neglect our diet, we neglect our bodies. When we continually consume harmful foods we give up control of our health. also of consequence, by fueling unhealthy food industries we further the disease burden by investing in harmful products rather than investing in nourishing and health promoting foods. Taking control of your diet is a process. Our eating habits are conditions and enforced over many days, months, and years, and breaking patterns is an effortful process. Like any behaviour change you must be able to understand the need for change, identify your resistances to change, and then identify your resources and make a plan of action.
We are social animals! We need connection, we need love, we need other people. There is a sinister trend in our society to live quite alienated lives. But connection and relaxed social engagements are a necessary component of a healthy, happy, human being. What one will find is that any one of the 5 competencies is not singular, that is, our need for socialization is directly related to our emotional health, and one way we can socialize is to eat and exercise with one another. In this way, a healthy life is a blend of all the core competencies that synergisticly work together.
The importance of socialization cannot be overstated. There are individuals without health, nourishing food, intellectual stimulation, but living on love. Humans have a remarkable ability to share in the burden of life, for tragedy is built into reality, there is no avoiding struggles, and it is only through our shared relationships with other people, and plants and animals for that matter that we can survive and thrive. Disconnection is closely associated with loneliness, addiction, and depression. If you have identified a deficit of your socialization in life there are countless ways of reaching out. There are many organizations with kind hearted individuals serving and helping other people, such as food banks and not for profit charities. There are sports and other competitive engagement that foster team building and positive interactions among people. There are religious gatherings and festivals. Remember, everyone needs connection, so everyone is searching for good hearted people in there lives.
The mind is the imagination, the imagination is infinite. With such a precious resource as the mind, we should be sensitive to realize that like the body and our emotions the mind has needs. Minds flourish through learning, curiosity, and complexity. Take a lesson from nature, your either living and growing, or decaying and dying. The brain, like a extensive networks of roots, aims to grow and expand. As you learn new cells and pathways in the brain are laid down, forming extensive networks like the splaying fingers of tree roots. Mental stimulation can involve both taking in information and creating content. There is an infinite amount of data it the world, new facts, ideas, concepts, disciplines, and endeavours for the mind to wander through, find what interests you and pursue it, its important for your growth. What your passionate about, other people will be passionate about if you share it with energy and enthusiasm. Not only can you take in vast storages of information, but each and every person has an imagination. I don’t care if you think your a ‘creative’ person, or if you have a specific artistic talent like drawing or singing, we are all creators. The very act of speaking is you creating new sentences. Creativity is expressive and beneficial. I’ve been reading a book on the psychotherapeutic effects of art therapy and its beautiful to read how the process of creating art can help people overcome trauma and even alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bottom-line: the minds creative capacity is infinite and its expression is essential to health and well-being.
In each and every moment we are a composite of our mind, body, and emotions. Many people live in one world, perhaps we think too much, and dissociate from our emotions and body. Other people are overly emotional and think little. Its easy to live in one world and to dissociate from either the mind, the body, or our emotions. However, in order to be healthy we must have a keen awareness of the current state of health of our minds, our emotions, and our body. Once again, I will restate, balance is achieved through an awareness of current conditions and relies on your ability to make the necessary adjustments to maintain balance. Therefore, we must be acutely aware of our mind, body, and emotions at all times to make the necessary adjustments. Its a challenging affair to be mindfully present in experience. As such, I recommend the practice of mindfulness meditation, which hones one’s ability to be present of all aspects of experience. For more information on mindful meditation see my blog post on mindfulness and the brain.
Back to fitness and the body. Our bodies are meant to move. Blood is meant to flow and our bodies are meant to express themselves in movement, dance, sport, and displays of emotions. Think about the happiest times in your life, they were probably when you were a kid, or perhaps a wedding or another celebration. You were probably dancing, or laughing, or singing. These are the actions of happy people. If your life involves little dancing, laughing, and singing, well there’s an easy change you can make to enrich your life. Dancing, laughing, and singing are excellent stress reduction strategies for emotional health. They balance the body, give energy, and help promote confidence and positive affect. Find what you love to do, it does not have to going to the gym, playing sports, hiking, or biking. Just find what moves you to move (and do it daily)!
Society pays much more attention to our physical bodies then our emotional bodies. As a consequence we are not taught to value or pay as much attention to our emotional health as we should. We are often performance and productivity driven at the expense of our emotions. Emotional health is closely correlated with our relative stress levels. As such things that promote emotional health are often stress reduction protocols. But more than merely decreasing stress, emotional health and by extension spirituality grasp at deeper meaning. It relates to the part of our human nature that seeks the transcendent aspects of reality, that is experiences and things beyond ourselves. For many people this is fulfilled through a religious structure and community. Other people find transcendence in arts, or volunteering.
Emotional health takes into account our need for love, self-love, and love and connection with other people, places, and beings. If we don’t accept ourselves our bodies, our past experiences, and way we feel and act, how can we love ourselves? As an extension, how can we expect others to love us, for when we don’t accept our own flaws people with automatically think we won’t accept them for their flaws.
The 5 competencies listed above are the core components necessary for health ad well-being. If you have read through them and find yourself with a deficit in any one category then you have made the first step in identifying a need in your life you can take steps forward in improving. As mentioned in the paragraph on nutrition, once you have identified the need to change, you must take the steps to identify the barriers and resistances you have to changing, then identify your resources, your support, your strengths and create a plan of action that will take you forward. If your out of balance, don’t carry it as a burden, balancing is always an act of adjustment. At some level you will find balance, but then the world will throw you a curve ball, a tragedy, or a novel situation that will take you out of balance. The process of life and growth is falling, failing, and getting back up.
Best wishes, Zachary Koop