The Beauty of Balance and Sustainability
Balance and sustainability are qualities that we aim for in life and in yoga practice. But, how often and for what periods of time do we manage to maintain these qualities before we begin to feel unbalanced and ragged.
In this guest post from Nikki Shilling* of Yoga Sphere in Port Stephens, NSW, this question is addressed in a way that we can all relate to. Here’s Nikki:
Intellectually we know what is meant by the words sustain and balance, and we use them constantly. But what do they really mean?
Sustain: Support, bear the weight of (for a long period), encourage, give nourishment, going continuously, maintain. Sustainable: ..[which] conserves an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
Balance: Stability of body or mind (regained his balance)…Counteract, equal or neutralise the weight or importance of. Bring into or keep in equilibrium; establish equal or appropriate proportions of elements; choose a moderate course or compromise.
There is a wide difference between the intellectual understanding of these words and actually knowing what they mean. Actual knowing is when something no longer requires much thought because it’s become What We Do and Who We Are.
You might think that opting to live a balanced and sustainable life would be simple in the modern world. But prosperity, information overload and all of the choices we have available to us mean it’s all become a bit of a head wreck. Most of us know how things should be and probably talk about it lots. Yet our reality is somewhat different. The constant pull in so many directions is a daily battle for many.
Do you remember a time when life was simpler? When being active, playful and creative was a normal, organic part of life? Do you remember having lots of fun and being involved with all kinds of things but without any particular purpose or goal in mind?
These days though, even something as simple and enjoyable as going for a stroll has become an event that we must be dressed appropriately for and be seriously serious about. Maybe we think we will burn more calories through our intensity and so will be allowed a milkshake later? I don’t know. The other day, I drove past somebody determined to make it very clear they were Going For a Walk. This woman’s arms were pumping up and down like a Russian soldier, her face was red, her expression was grim and her exercise apparel bright and properly branded. I must confess, it did make me giggle.
Not that there is anything wrong with walking or any kind of exercise. Absolutely not. But why so grim? Are we not allowed to enjoy our daily exercise routine? Or is it just possible that we are over-thinking everything because we have become so achievement oriented? I think it’s fair to say to say that obsessive thoughts will generally lead us to obsessive behaviour. And, I know from experience that any kind of obsession with anything takes us a long way away from enjoying the moment we are living in right now.
For high achievers particularly, the desire for perfection combined with an inability to just “be” can mean that every waking moment is spent striving for one thing or another. It may be a clean house, a perfect body, a status symbol, an idea of greatness. Yet the quest for perfection can also be accompanied by a feeling of anti-climax or a sense of never quite getting “there” (or being “here”, for that matter!). For some, perfectionism may lead to depression or anxiety because the desire for perfection is damn near impossible to satisfy. Indeed, for a high achiever, expectations will always shift and can rarely be met, leading to disappointment, guilt or a a feeling of worthlessness.
That doesn’t really sound balanced, sustainable and loving on a longterm emotional level, does it?
Another example where imbalance is present is what occurs every December when the Christmas party invites start to arrive. How many times have you found yourself feeling guilty because you couldn’t help but over-indulge or drink too much? Maybe it didn’t sit well with you, but your self-saboteur decided that you may as well “give up” until January or February because it’s too hard to maintain any kind of balance over the silly season. This is what happens when we over-think things. On an emotional level, it’s not balanced and it’s not sustainable. On a deep level, it’s hard to feel at ease with ourselves while there’s an internal struggle going on.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating giving up trying to achieve things. Absolutely not! Personally, I am all for commitment, consistency and enthusiasm. But as long as it’s done in the spirit of enjoyment and even having fun. We need to stop being so tough on ourselves. I do know that it’s healthy on a mental level to be unattached to outcomes. Once we let go of the idea that things are only worth doing if there is some kind of reward at the end, the over-thinking ceases and it’s much easier to regain control of our senses. We become free to simply just do our best. We accept that any outcome is what it is and, actually, neither here nor there.
Another buzz phrase that I hear is relates to the desire to feel centred, yet this elusive middle ground does appear to have become lost. That’s unfortunate, because it’s what yoga is about (and being centred doesn’t necessarily have to be only when on a mat). It’s a common view that yoga is about bending, moving, stretching and/or relaxing and meditating. But, it’s actually a complete and balanced lifestyle system. It’s a philosophy that encourages ethical, sustainable choices and mindful daily habits. In other words, yoga is about the way we live, what we eat, how we think and our respectful attitude towards ourselves and others. Equilibrium in all things. Practised correctly, yoga is about letting go of the “all-or-nothing” mentality and, instead, learning to love what I like to describe as “The Sweet Spot”. This is somewhere between effort and surrender. Others might call it “The Edge”– the place that’s just out of our comfort zone. It’s the place where we challenge ourselves to stay alert, strong and focussed, but not so challenged that we start to panic, fret and no longer can stay calm. It’s important to remember that yoga is neither yang nor yin. It’s not only Ha (energy of the sun) and it’s not only Tha (energy of the moon). Yoga is the epitome of equanimity because its aim is right there in the centre.
Balance and Age
And, it works. Some of the world’s most important yogis have lived healthy, productive lives, right into their 90s. BKS Iyengar was 95 when he passed and Pattabhi Jois 93. Both were still teaching at the age of 90. Tao Porchon-Lynch, believed to the world’s oldest yoga teacher at 98, is still teaching.
The majority of us are living longer, sure, but are we living well like Tao, who still loves to ballroom dance with her young dance partner? Or, does our tendency towards extreme types of behaviour mean that we often find ourselves out of balance? These days, individuals of all ages are reliant on prescription medication and they may be experiencing failing health. At a time when they might have potentially thirty or forty more years on the planet, their health is degenerating simply because no time has been invested in supportive and more moderate practises. Thirty or forty perhaps decrepit years! Not a balanced and healthy ideal but fortunately, it’s never too late to change.
One of the many things I love about having yoga in my life is the fact that asana and vinyasa provide a complete body and mind conditioning workout that potentially saves money and valuable resources. Who needs a room full of expensive weights and equipment (that will inevitably end up in landfill) when our own body is such a fantastic tool for weight-bearing purposes? Practised barefoot and with no rules about wearing Lululemon, Lorna Jane or even using a mat, yoga is a system that anyone, anywhere can take up no matter what their financial situation. Even when the wind is howling outside and/or the room inside is limited, it will pay off to make space for yoga.
The issue of finding a way to life with balance and sustainability is a big one, and it is enriched by doing yoga. We are living longer and find ourselves doing either way too much or simply not enough. We forget that our bodies, just like that of the Earth, have limited resources. Maintaining a sense of well-being for as long as possible is only likely if we can opt as much as possible for the middle ground during our lives and seek balance in all things.
*Nikki Shilling has been an imperfect but consistent yogi since 1998. She doesn’t always get it right, so is VERY grateful that yoga is described as a practice. Phew.
In 2004, shortly after the birth of her eldest son and the completion of a year-long, full-time teacher training course at Nature Care College, Nikki and her family moved from Enmore in Sydney’s Inner West, to Port Stephens on the Mid North Coast of NSW. It was here that she began teaching yoga as a profession. In between, she popped out another son.
These days she is still pinching herself because, happily, she has ended up with a gorgeous, boutique studio on her property and has a small, yet dedicated local following. There are also three ewes and some chickens. At last, the girls here are outnumbering the boys!