March 20th was the spring vernal equinox. For a tiny slice of time the earth span completely upright on its axis, day and night were equal in length across the planet, light and dark are matched and yoga teachers across the globe heed the call to talk about finding balance in our lives as well as our Uttitha hasta padanghustasana.
Balance is something of a buzzword in yoga. Studios are named after it, teachers use nifty balance sound-bites and in every yoga class we go to, if we don’t find ourselves standing on one leg and doing strange things with the other one then we’re holding a pose and trying to find the perfect equilibrium between stretching ourselves (both literally and figuratively) without pushing to a point of lasting discomfort.
But what if constant pursuit of the conventional ideal of ‘balance’ in our lives – particularly the one upheld by the yoga community – is a bit like chasing a unicorn?
Maybe balance as we typically imagine it is a little over-rated.
A few years ago, I was really driving my veterinary career. I did a surgical and medical internship in one of the best horse hospitals in the country and suddenly found myself working more hours than I was aware existed in a week, earning way less than when I was 17 and at ‘Pizza Hut’ and coming nowhere near the daily recommended allowances for sleep, vegetables and exercise. Unless you counted cat-napping in pathology meetings, ketchup and chasing errant patients and/or vet students. One particularly memorable bank holiday I scored a 64- hour shift without a shower, sleep or proper meal. My life was not balanced. But, in the moment, I was pretty happy. I had purpose and was working towards something that was important to me.
We all go through phases like this. Take the first flashes of a new relationship. We choose our beloved over (healthy) food, sleep, self-care and phoning our friends and grandmas. Life is messy and spontaneous – it doesn’t drop neatly into equally proportioned boxes.
Even when I decided to devote more energy to yoga because 100+ hour weeks knee-deep in poo weren’t doing it for me anymore (and I love it), I still didn’t move in the ‘balanced’ way people expected. I quit my job, moved to a damp and crumbling farmhouse in a new area, simultaneously started two completely different businesses and acquired a puppy, a parrot and a proverbial bun in the oven. A hair-brained plan. Well, it wasn’t a plan. It was some more intense, free-wheeling shooting from the hip. But I’m happier than I ever thought I had a right to be.
I’m just not convinced we make the biggest impact in our lives when we prioritise equally dividing our attention between our career, family, significant other, friends, self-care, diet, dogs and gym routine.
Just like in asana, our ‘ideal balance’ in life is immensely personal. What looks great on one person would result in bone breakage for others. What might look slow and easy from the outside can be a ridiculously rich and fierce experience inside.
If our physical balance in class is a reflection of our inner balance… and I immediately pulled myself up the one time those oft-quoted words left my mouth in class, then it’s not the cookie cutter balance we’re often led to believe we’re searching for. It’s unearthing peace and equanimity with exactly where we are and immersing ourselves in the present moment. If we’re wobbling (and wobbling is cool) it’s likely because we’re momentarily stuck in the past or racing ahead to what comes next, rather than being fundamentally out of whack.
When we’re genuinely consumed by what’s happening right now, when our reality makes us feel electric and alive, our posture blossoms and steadies. Off the mat, our life feels productive and worthwhile.
Instead of defining balance as equal division of attention between our various earthly commitments, that division should feel appropriate to ourselves and the moment. Who cares if our pose or our ‘work-life’ choices look wonky as sh*t from the outside?? If it genuinely feels delicious and lights you up then go for it. And more power to you.
With (happily unhinged) love, Sal xx