Redefining Balance: life, preventing falls, and circus performers

Many people crave the elusive sense of balance…in their body and in their lives.

That moment when everything is perfect.

The feeling of having arrived…then we can breathe, rest, be happy.

But what is balance really? Is it the experience of being supported and at ease? Is a feeling of certainty or security? Is it a place in time or a position in the body – or something inherently much more dynamic and fluid?

If you’ve read my writings or worked with me before, you know I think balance is bullshit. Yep, I said it. At least the static paradigm of achieving ‘balance’ is what I disagree with strongly.

Isn’t it most important that we know what to do for ourselves to bring peace and comfort when ‘it’ hits the fan? To trust our ability to rebound, to respond, to come out the other side better than we went in?

My teaching paradigm and personal life philosophy is that balance must be embodied dynamically.

Let me explain.

How effective is it to get everything set, glued down, saved, secured? And then the weather shifts, life blows up, we get a curve ball and feel like none of that structure works for us anymore – because everything is different, right?

External structures and systems will never be more powerful than internal perspective and personal embodiment.

And they’ll never be more powerful than WITH a personal embodiment and perception that works.

Habits help us make and measure progress, yes.

And structure can give us a needed framework. Systems can help us get organized and accomplish tasks.

Yet intention comes from within you – goals require your mind and effort put toward that which you value.

Your inner perception is so powerful – Can I handle this? Can I adapt to this new scenario? How do I respond next? Do I trust myself to grow and change? And my work is to help you bring this inner perception into outward reality and expression through movement and embodiment.

Awareness of all the things we value helps us put resources and energy into those things we value – to keep them all afloat and feeling sufficiently tended to and cared for.

Keeping all the balls in the air at once means they are all moving, yes?

Like watching a circus performer standing on one high stilt while juggling five pins. They are continually adapting, adjusting – yet all the pins remain in the air…cycling, circulating. No one pin can remain in the performer’s grasp requiring their full attention or force for very long before it is set free, and the next pin receives a moment of contact.

Many people see ‘balance’ as having a death grip on all the pins they’re juggling, white-knuckling their way through life. We hear phrases like, “Don’t lose it.” “Keep it together.” They stay on task, keep their guard up, force themselves to push onward or hold on tighter, or put in a little more effort for things to finally….feel…balanced. “There! Don’t move! I’ve got it!”

If the circus performer used that kind of force and control, grasping and grabbing for the pins, they’d surely fall over.

Or the pins would simply stop moving, suffocated by the stress and tension in the performer’s grasp. Stop the pins from moving and it’s like life has stopped spinning. No more change or learning – no ability to respond. Seems to me like a sad way to live.

And in our physical body, this lack of responsiveness or resilience equates to tension, inertia, pain and plain inactivity.

A healthy body and mind can fluidly adapt, change and meet the changing moment skillfully.

My interest in my teaching is helping clients feel secure during insecure times. How to become comfortable within the discomfort of an aching body, a healing injury, an emotional trauma, a major life change – and how that ability to accept and be within the experience (without judging or hating it) then allows us to transcend the experience.

And we find this comfort, security, and resilience in, with and through the BODY in motion.

Let’s put this into practice with a physical experience.

How does balance actually work?1973179_10152372093678685_8461023077139602519_o

Balance is a product of several body systems:
– Vestibular system (inner ear registering movement of fluids)
– Seeing the space around us with our visual sense
– Proprioception – our body’s sense of position and movement in space
– exteroception and interoception – gathering useful sensory information moment to moment

…and just good ol’ fashioned awareness – ie: mindfulness.

Pay attention to what you’re doing!

One of my long-term clients back in Wisconsin used to fall a lot. When I’d ask her to tell me about what happened, we often discovered that it was during times of emotional distress or monkey-mind driven anxiety – rush, rush, do this, go here, do that – and BAM, she’d fall down because she simply was not paying attention in the moment. Our mind is powerful, but it is not powerful separate from or in spite of the body. It is most brilliant when embodied. When we are fully aware of the present moment. For her, the remedy certainly included some physical training, yet it was often most affected by a simple habit of slowing down, paying attention that helped her reduce her falls most.

In my opinion, we also get better at balancing by getting better at moving.

When we are engaged and aware as LIVING BREATHING MOVING bodies, we are more able to adapt to and navigate within our environment. Simply put, when we are in our body, we move better. And when we are better movers, we’re also better at ‘balancing’.

Balance is not a static position we must find and hold.

Balance is a dynamic event of responding to the changing moment with movement.

Try this:
Stand on your right foot. Notice how easy or hard it feels. Back to both feet.

Now, stand on your right foot again and move your arms, turn your head, nod up and down…keep moving for about 20-30 seconds if possible, while balancing.

>>> Can you stay balanced as the challenge increases?

Take a break for a moment – return to both feet.

Now try simply standing on the right foot again. Does it feel more embodied? More aware? Easier than the first time? Some of you might say (and feel a clear answer) that yes – it’s easier now. but how?

PS: We’re changing visual focus or ‘drishti’ to ask the visual sense to adapt and respond, and moving the inner ear fluids by turning the head, and requiring more neuromuscular input by coordinating arms, head and torso. By amplifying the challenge or likelihood of error, we are switching on more pathways in the brain and body to ‘balance’ with, making it easier then to repeat the first task of standing on one foot. In short, you’re more plugged in and able to respond.

Try this on the other leg as well. Of course, breathe, smile, accept if you tip a little or touch your foot down.

Enjoy any changes or improvements you notice, even if very subtle.

Ready for one last experiment?

Now come back to both legs. Close your eyes. Notice how your body naturally moves, sways, shifts moment to moment. You can especially feel this by how and where the weight transfers to in your feet. It’s called postural sway and it’s part of a healthy body – responding and adapting to the changing moment, and cycling effort or load through different body structures and systems so as not to overload any one system or joint surface or neuromuscular pattern. In movement sciences we also refer to this as variability.

Basically, change is fundamental to embodiment and life.

When you try standing on one foot again, see if you can notice these subtle, dynamic adjustments. Even in ‘stillness’ we are alive, breathing, moving.

True Balance is constant recalibration. Balance means adapting skillfully.

How can you allow yourself to B A L A N C E better this week?

Tell me in the comments below!

Allow yourself to enjoy the ride!

Cheri

PS: Here’s the online article that sparked my writing juices today. Enjoy and let me know how you felt with the experiments above! http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/sunday/finding-the-right-balance.html?_r=0

PPS: You can get more articles, tips, and movement videos by joining my email list. It’s free weekly inspiration!

One thought on “Redefining Balance: life, preventing falls, and circus performers

  1. Ingrid

    Thanks, Cheri for sharing this! What wonderful ideas combining our idea of physical balance (poses, movement, falling) and life balance. To think that we can control, strive to control our circumstances and refuse to see the impermanence of all our life stages down to day to day, moment to moment changes- this binds us, creates unhappiness. Our ability to have a pliable mind and flexible responses to circumstances can release us from the misery we create for ourselves in trying to “keep it together” or only see it one way. Right on in the embodiment camp, the fluid nature of a “held” pose or posture. Mil gracias!

    Reply

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