Balance: A Holistic Approach to Fitness

LIFE YOGA IS "WHERE IT'S AT"

DISCLAIMER: This post has nothing to do with bending and stretching at a popular tourist spot.

I believe if you follow yoga's off-the-mat instructions for life, you’ll be a hell of a lot closer to getting what you want from diet and fitness. In January I spent some time exploring the #1 guideline of yogic teaching: practice nonviolence toward the self and others. A whopper. We’re living in a very overstimulated world and I would like to make a case for pausing, stepping back and taking a look at life. Finding your unique life balance is a crucial aspect of living without doing unnecessary harm to yourself. Maintaining some level of balance within your body, mind and soul will help you become just as fit as you would like to be. It doesn’t matter if you want to bench press a million pounds or run a marathon, you need balance or you’ll hit a wall-sideways.

Balance in life is a prerequisite for attaining a general sense of well-being and contentment. A feel-good calm and centered way of being will improve almost all of the important aspects of your life (e.g. relationships, career, the internet, etc.) ha! Balance will give you peace of mind as you go full steam ahead.

BALANCE IS WHACK THESE DAYS

Let’s define balance for a sec here. Not spinning your head on a bat and racing to the finish line. I’m talking about a state of inner equilibrium that results in a healthy body. A state of mental equanimity which allows you to be calm alert and focused. A feeling of inner peace knowing that the essence of you is oozing out of every pore.  To put it simply, being in balance is when you feel alive because you’re doing and being what you want.

There is immense pressure for us to achieve greatness, do ALL the things simultaneously and perform perfectly(oh, and look hot doing it). Goals are super fantastic...until it means your day looks like: over caffeinating, working 10 hr day, hitting the gym and totally flogging yourself with a workout, coming home under hydrated and having some kind of dinner, realize sadly that it’s already time for bed and pass out or look at your phone in bed for a while. Or some version of that.

In the example day above, there’s very little time dedicated to any of the following:

-fam/friends/community

-self care (massage, bath, etc.)

-good old fashioned fun

-romance

Note these above needs are general. We all have a different set of needs and core values. So only you alone can know if all of your cups are full.  To put it heavily, denying any of your needs is violence toward the self. Not overt violence, but a kind of incessant subtle self-denial which leaves you feeling taken advantage of and anxious. Remaining out of balance for a long time will lead to an unpleasant misdirection of energy. You’ve heard of “eat my feelings” I’m assuming. Yeah, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

So, let’s take a sample list of important dimensions of life:

-fam/friends/community

-finances

-health/self care

-social/fun

-personal/spiritual development

-romance/intimacy

-physical environment (home/office)

-career/business

In order to get a visual of life balance, we need to give each of those elements a rating 0-10 on level of satisfaction, then put it into a life balance wheel. Let’s say Joanna (fake person) entered her ratings like this:

-fam/friends/community 6

-finances 4

-health/self care 8

-social/fun 5

-personal/spiritual development 3

-romance/intimacy 6

-physical environment (home/office) 2

-career/business 10

Let’s now look at Joanna's results in a life balance wheel:

wheelsample.gif

 

Joanna takes great care of her health, loves her job and maintains decent relationships in her life. Her home is an absolute dump and she hasn't looked at her bank account in weeks. This causes some low-level nervousness for Joanna, but delving into a fulfilling work day makes it all OK*forced smile*!

Like Joanna, it is common for you to pay the MOST attention to 1,2 or even 3 things. The other parts get a bad deal. Basically, it’s shitty pizza math that you’re applying to your life.

balance

definition : a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

The really annoying thing about finding balance is that it is niiiiice and fluid. So, once you have a balanced afternoon with 1 hour of work, 1 hour soaking in the tub, 1 hour reading etc., you are not then in a permanent state of equilibrium. It changes moment to moment, day to day, forever.  You’ve got to remain aware of what is not getting ample attention. Imagine a waiter who is filling a whole cluster of cups with a water pitcher, and starts a conversation with one of his co-workers. He doesn't realize he is still filling the same cup and letting the water run all over the counter. Most of the other cups are empty. Hey, it happens! Currently my overflowing cup is personal development. Yes - that can be too full as well. I'd like to start filling my finances cup once I finish writing this...

You might make your own version of the life balance wheel(or even just a list) with the same or different dimensions. You can choose needs that feel more true for you. What can you do to give more attention to your near-empty cups?

WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH BEING #FITAF?

Once you recognize the balance you need in your big-picture life, you can hone in on what you direction to take your fitness.  To go back to the spinning on a bat example, once you steady your feet and make sure you’re not going to face plant or walk right off the track - you attempt to walk straight ahead. Similarly, once we have the life balance to feel grounded, we can clearly decide which direction to walk. In other words, we can view our level of fitness objectively, and make clear decisions on how to improve based on what we want.  That might be toward a triathlon, or a powerlifting competition, or a serious long term sustainable fat loss program.  

Feeling rushed, over tired, achy, or overwhelmed might be your signal that you are one out-of-balance individual. Is your calendar overbooked? Do you sleep enough? How’s the water intake? No one ever reached their fitness goals from a state of overwhelm. Do Olympic level athletes get ready for their trials using a 6-week couch to Olympics guide? (NO! HINT: it's a long-term precise training program).

Don’t forget how much choice you have with your time. If you have too much to do, carve out some time to prioritize what’s important. Oh - and cancel some shit! It’s YOUR SCHEDULE. If you’re not filling it, who is?

Let us briefly revisit Joanna (above). From Joanna's balance wheel, it’s clear that her main priority is career. Career will obviously be the quickest area of positive growth in her life. She cannot expect to achieve the bangin' body she has in mind with so much energy put toward her career. However, she still beats herself up because she "should be able" to have that body. Wrong. The best looking bodies out there have the majority of their wheel filled in with self care, personal development and training. You can’t expect to have exactly what you want with your fitness if you don’t give it the focused attention that it requires.

Unfortunately you cannot have it all, 100% of the time. Maybe you look to others and believe they have it all, but you don't know crap about their needs. You're just comparing yourself to others to make yourself feel bad.  They might have a 0 in the intimacy category because their partner is never home. The point is, you don't know. No one has it all. Focus on you.  I think many people who have unmet needs decide to punish and shame their own bodies . Our bodies are an easy target, and of course the media constantly aids us in feeling flawed.

Your unmet needs are very likely to blame for not getting what you want in the gym. You may ignore your needs and let your assumed lack of progress feel like a reflection of who you are as a person: imperfect, flawed, stuck, not worthy. So get out a piece of paper, draw your wheel and find out what needs attention in your life!

ME: SPINNING OUT OF BALANCE

As an overwhelmed college student, I starved my way to 89 lbs(about 30 lbs underweight) which felt like a victory to me at the time. In retrospect, I see that so many aspects of my life suffered because i was hangry for food(obviously) but also for self-care. My grades were barely passable. My spiritual/personal development was non-existent, and my health was straight-up bad. One doctor told me that my heart was in serious danger if I continued that way. My emptiness was spilling over to concerned friend and my parents, who were suffering with worry. Also, my inattention to my own basic needs had an extremely negative effect on my body (because I blamed my body). My needs could only be met by me alone. This is why you always have to put your own oxygen mask on first. Imbalance within you has a spillover effect.

What did I do? Long story very short, I tapped into my inner guidance system. My intuition. You have your own. There’s a quiet voice within you that works for your best interest. 

My inner voice told me that I needed to be kinder to myself for the sake of my life. No external look would change how I felt about myself. I allowed myself to heal. Fast forward a decade (plus a couple years) and my relationship to my body is 1000x better, and fitness has a very healthy spot in my life. 

FINAL WORDS

When it comes to fitness, finding balance will allow you to think calmly about what it is you’d like to achieve.  Finding balance is how we address that "something's missing" feeling. Success in fitness comes from a delightful life balance, with a special fitness prioritization. Reaching a higher level of fitness should not serve as a prescription for shitty health, or a slap on the wrist for having cake, or an urgent cure-all. It’s part of a balanced life. If your fitness cup is almost full on the life wheel, success is inevitable. We're all going nowhere fast, so just enjoy the journey ;)