The Great Balancing Act–By Mary Ellen
“Balance is part of your physical and emotional wellness,” I recently told a room full of clients. What does this mean? We are supposed to balance our diet, balance our checkbook, our schedule, and our time. At the fitness studio where I work, The Dailey Method, we devote a sequence of exercises just to the practice of balance. Not too long ago, I watched my toddlers hold out their little chubby arms, finding balance before trying the next step. My Grandmother, who is in her late 90’s, tells me one of the hardest parts of getting old is feeling the loss of her physical balance.
Balance conjures images of harmony, peace, and flow. Even in the dictionary, there are many definitions, including “a harmonious arrangement or proportion of parts” and “to balance the difference between the debits and credits of (an account).” Sometimes instead of balance, we find ourselves in a great juggling act. Trying to manage, or juggle, too many agendas in life can bring feelings of imbalance. Finding harmony then, or balance, takes some work.
Recently, I learned about the importance of balance. This past May, I had a surgery which prevented me, for about 7 weeks, from doing many of the ordinary things I thought kept me in “balance.” Under my doctor’s strict orders, I was to rest. No running, no workouts, no teaching classes, no lifting anything more than 2 pounds, and no driving for 3 weeks. For 8 weeks, I could not lift my two year old son out of his crib or up onto my lap. I relied on babysitters to help me in the day with basic tasks I had always juggled, like carpools, housework, and play dates.
In the days that followed my surgery, I began to feel the consequences of an inactive body. My energy was low, my muscles ached, and I was feeling a little depressed sitting on my couch all day. I began to suffer from insomnia, constipation, irritability, and headaches. I started to feel like I was on a commercial for one of the pharmaceuticals that warns of all the worst outcomes to its potential users. My usual happy, energetic, optimistic self was turning into someone I didn’t know.
In a quest to find balance, I decided to try a 21-day whole food cleanse. Though I typically follow a pretty clean diet, I felt like this would be a perfect time to give up a few of those pesky habits that may limit ultimate health. Yes, for 21 days I did not drink a single cup of coffee or glass of wine. I ate a diet that focused solely on green juice and smoothie mornings, salad lunches, and raw veggies and proteins like quinoa or lentils for dinner.
The first week was easy. I was nauseous from surgery and the medications, so I didn’t want coffee or alcohol. Green smoothies were about the only thing I could stomach. After that first week, I began to feel the effects of the loss of endorphins. I was edgy and missed my morning run and coffee. These were replaced by short walks around the block and cups of herbal, decaffeinated tea. Instead of a glass of wine in the evening, I set up a meditation corner and sat on a pillow and practiced breathing. With the time I ordinarily spent teaching or exercising, I read books, lots of books. Because I couldn’t sleep at night, I devoured humor books, romance novels, and mysteries. I studied macrobiotic cooking and learned more about the Yin and Yang. It sounds so ideal, doesn’t it? Balanced? Ha! I would be stretching it to say I felt good. I was trying to get through the time.
During this healing period, I realized how important it was to take care of my needs and to let others help me. Taking all this rest time, at first made me feel guilty. Normally, I spend most of my free time with my children. As I was recovering, I was relying on babysitters, family, and friends to take care of my three kids. As I started feeling better, though, I let go of the guilt and scheduled lunch dates with friends, manicures and pedicures, and massages and facials. I met a woman who is an energy healer and visited her regularly. I took naps in the afternoon and shopped for new clothes. I went to the city overnight with friends and let my husband takeover for a weekend. Guiltless. Everyone was surviving. Still, the scales did not feel even.
Twenty-one days of restricting my “guilty” pleasures of a daily coffee, occasional wine, and chocolate ended up being too extreme for me. Giving these up, combined with the lack of hearty exercise, left me cranky, tired, and longing. I was not feeling balanced. My body gave up the cravings, but I began to realize that some things really are good in moderation. Once I returned to a little coffee and a glass of wine here and there, I felt better. My energy came back, I felt more relaxed, and I slept better. As I became more mobile, I spent more time with my children again and less at the nail salon. As I was able to get back to some of the responsibilities of my children, my job, and my home (as frenetic as they may sometimes be), I felt more in touch with my life and who I am today. I actually felt more in balance than when I was trying to “quiet my mind” on my pillow in the corner. (That pillow, at the time, was needed for the fort my kids were building.)
Three weeks ago, my doctor gave me the clearance to return to running, light weights, and modified core exercise. My first day back to The Daily Method left me sore, somewhat discouraged with my quick loss of flexibility, strength, and yes, balance. If I hadn’t already had a commitment to this amazing form of exercise, I think I may have not gone back. It was really hard and my body, once strong, was only able to complete a fraction of the exercises.
Today, 17 days of workouts, 10 classes taught, and 20 runs later, I am stronger. Though I am still healing and it may take me months to completely recover from a major surgery, I persevere. Along with my Dailey Method clients, especially those who are new to the workout or working on building strength, I have a new appreciation of how difficult it is. In order to truly gain optimum physical well being, however, we must find our own balance and give ourselves the time to become stronger. Along with my clients of The Kitchen Remix, I recognize the importance of finding balance in eating for life. It is not about having a “perfect” diet. It is about finding a way of living that makes sense and that doesn’t leave one feeling deprived.
Here are a few ideas:
Don’t take an “all or nothing” approach to health. You may miss a few workouts because of a busy schedule or make poor eating choices on a vacation. Get over it and move on. You ARE a healthy person, capable of of making good decisions. Do not give up on yourself just because you got off track. Remember your goals and how excellent you feel when you are taking care of yourself. You are worth it.
Remember to take time for yourself. You cannot possibly be the best parent, spouse, friend, employee, partner, human, etc., until you have taken care of your needs. You must nourish your body, mind, and spirit in order to have energy for those you love. Be mindful of your “self-speak.” Use words and thoughts about yourself that are just as kind as those you use with your most beloved.
There is not a “one size fits all” secret remedy to healthy living. Find a workout that you like and will continue to do. Do some sort of exercise most days. Move. Play. Dance. You do not need to be an Olympic athlete to have a healthy heart and strong muscles. Eat well everyday. If you eat a food that is less healthy, you will notice it in your body. If you indulge in something unhealthy, don’t sweat it. Enjoy it and move on. Just don’t make it a habit. You will see and feel the benefits of your better choices. Experiment with new foods and share them with your friends and family. Find the foods that make you feel and look your best, focusing on a plant based diet, and your body will naturally go to the size you are meant to be. Commit to yourself that you will love whatever shape or size you are in right now. Make the changes in your life that will bring you greater wellness.
Let others into your circle. You have friends, family, or neighbors who truly care about your well-being. Whether it be in your personal, professional, or spiritual journey, allow others to help and support you. Reach out to others and enlist others to join you as you seek greater balance.
As I finish writing this, I am on a vacation with my family. The morning was spent swimming with my children while my husband slept in. Later, I went on a hilly run through beautiful, tree lined streets and my husband took the kids to the beach. We spent the rest of the day, all five of us, exploring the town, visiting the farmer’s market, cooking delicious meals, and just hanging out. Our day ended with big scoops of ice cream at a shop called Oinks. Of course there was a bee sting, kids fighting over a beach ball, and a tantrum that lasted 10 minutes (my 2 year old, not me). It was a day of perfect balance.