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  • Jeni Houser

Balancing Act

Y’all, I have so much to say about balance. I think I could talk about balance all day. Is that just because I’m a Libra? Perhaps. But it is an underlying theme in my work, my relationships, my life. For example: I used to stand in tree pose during church choir rehearsals as a child; long before I took my first yoga class, I would attempt Warrior 3 regularly (with very uneven hips, I’m sure); and one of my party tricks is to have a plastic water bottle balanced on my head and do things like walk around, jump and catch it again on my head, and lower down from standing into a modified Upward Facing Dog and then roll into a seated position before standing back up.



It has always felt good to me to work on balance with my body. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to balance, have you noticed that? You never arrive anywhere when doing a balance pose, the whole thing is a constant flow of energy and minuscule adjustments as equilibrium goes in and out. Balancing feels easier on some days than others, but the tough days don't feel worthy of criticism, they just signal me to keep moving and adjusting. As someone with perfectionist tendencies, balancing feels like a mini-miracle of letting go of control, because I’ve noticed that the more I micromanage my body, the less likely it is to settle and feel steady.


Buckle up, because this next point is going to be *shocking*. It’s unprecedented in bodywork (and in this blog) to tie a physical concept into a mental one, but I’m feeling brave today, so: I ALSO feel less settled and steady in life when I try to micromanage my plans and relationships and feelings. Letting go of control allows me to feel more of the natural flow of emotional energy, to make minuscule adjustments as necessary, and to be aware of the changing reality of each moment rather than being caught up in my plans for perfection.


In addition to the physical definition and the general mental connotation, we use the concept of balance widely in American culture. We talk about chemicals in the brain being properly balanced and we also balance our budgets and our diets. We balance our personal and professional responsibilities, while the Supreme Court is attempting to balance the rights of individual privacy against the rights of Congress to be informed about the president’s finances. There are balancing acts in the circus, going back to the initial physical understanding, but we also talk about “walking the tightrope” between offending people and speaking our minds. We might be feeling off-balance with changes in our workplace or have a hormonal imbalance that produces all sorts of side effects or be called unbalanced to euphemistically convey that we need help with severe mental conditions. Balance seems to be our cultural ideal, while its opposites are conversely negative.


The way we talk about many of those concepts of balance, however, seems to indicate that we believe we can force everything into a balanced state. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the internet, it’s that eating a balanced diet is *essential* and it means something very specific and different to each purveyor of diet-culture-goods and I am BAD at being a healthy human on the earth if I don’t eat the balanced diet they recommend.


Meanwhile, I’m over here in quarantine balancing my enjoyment of food with my desire to avoid feeling lethargic and heavy after meals. Day by day I am making choices to cook with my family and enjoy eating good things with absolutely no guilt, but stopping before the final bites that will take me over the ledge of fullness or skipping dessert when I don’t have a sweet tooth. My personal “balanced diet” also involves choosing to avoid meat a good amount of the time because of its environmental impact, but without fretting over the meals where I do savor it.


My favorite story about this side of the balance equation goes back to an audition season some years ago when I was fighting a cold. All singers understand the extreme anguish brought on by the beginning of a cold during any season of singing - I have said on many occasions that colds make me want to quit singing, because the stress is almost too much to bear. This particular cold was about a week before I was scheduled to fly to New York for several weeks of young artist program auditions. I was staying with my parents at the time, and my dad was having a bowl of ice cream after dinner, while I was drinking ginger tea and steaming and crying. I explained to him that I was scared I would have to cancel auditions and would miss my chance to move forward in my career and my entire life would come to nothing (or something low-key like that). Also, I told him through tears, I really wanted to have some ice cream, but sugar is the single worst thing for the immune system. My dad paused his eating and looked at me with tremendous compassion. Then he said, “Sugar may be bad for the immune system, but happiness is good. If eating some ice cream right now will make you less sad, then that has to be better than depriving yourself of something in order to do what’s ‘right.’”


I think about that all the time. It’s ok to lean into happiness or indulgence sometimes. We are not robotic bodies - our emotions and physical health are intricately linked. Plus, the “right” thing for each of us changes day by day. Some days it wouldn’t feel like deprivation to skip the ice cream, but if it does, then you probably need some ice cream in your life. And some days, it feels liberating and wonderful to go for a run, but other days I sense that I need rest and a recharge by lazing around the house. Finding the balance points for health, for emotions, and for the body are completely individual things that no marketer can determine for us. We have to trust our instincts and make the minuscule adjustments - eating the extra sugar when we need it for happiness, skipping it when we don’t - to find and maintain balance.


So far today I have found great comfort in sitting still with a dog on my lap. But it is also a beautiful sunny day and I can sense the urge for a run coming, along with desire for homemade pizza for dinner. I trust my feelings and urges, and I also know that I’ll be ok when my equilibrium gets thrown off a bit more than usual and it takes longer to adjust back to my balance point. After all, life is energy flow, there is no such thing as perfect, and sometimes ice cream is the answer.


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