This is a belated Happy New Year message about the importance of balance, strength, and flexibility as we journey or “sail” through life. Those of you who know me, know that I am traveling a great deal and teaching in many different places. It has been a tremendous opportunity to meet and help many inspiring people. I appreciate all who have opened their hearts and minds and studios to me.
The past several weeks have also held a new challenge. I learned my husband has lymphoma. Tests are being run. We caught it early, and we have great hopes that it is treatable. But any cancer diagnosis causes one to stop and look at life in a little different light. It changes things.
I found myself reflecting on an experience I had a few weeks ago in Florida. Some friends made the generous offer to take me and my daughter sailing. It was a beautiful January day full of Florida sun. We made our way up the river and into the Atlantic Ocean, totally enjoying the beauty of the day. However, on the return trip, the boat lodged onto a sand bank, and some sand got into the fuel filter. It soon became apparent that the only way to make it back was to let the wind in the sails push us back into the harbor.
As my friends began the process of unfurling the sails again and positioning them to do the job, I thought about the winds that push us through life’s difficulties. I watched as my friends set the sails so that they were not too loose and not too tight and in just the right position to move us forward in the direction we needed to go. This position also had to be fluid so the sails could be moved as the winds shifted. There was a dance of balance and strength and flexibility that deeply touched me.
As part of our first of the year resolutions, we often set goals to become stronger—to hit the gym more, to run, to bike, etc. These goals are great. The power to DO is strength. We know how valuable strength is if we have suffered the helplessness of not being able to move according to our desires.
Perhaps you have broken a bone and had to “stay off it” for a period of time. When rehabilitating, those first few days of trying to move with a major loss of strength can be very frustrating. Building strength can increase our power and ability to do—to a certain point. The image of that sail comes to mind again. There needed to be tautness in the sail, or it could not propel us forward. Setting goals to build strength is good, but we absolutely must balance that strength with flexibility. Sails that are too rigid, cannot catch the wind.
I frequently see problems caused by strength that is not balanced with flexibility, especially within the fitness community. Just as we cannot move well without sufficient strength, our movement can become restricted and even painful if we build strength without also building flexibility. Working with pain caused by restriction in my clients’ bodies was what fostered my love of Yamuna’s work. Often people do not even realize that their pain is coming from a restricted joint or muscle. They have gotten used to not being able to move and assume that this is just “how it is.” Repetitive patterns of movement are particularly problematic in creating areas of restriction—whether it is golfing or Pilates or yoga or racquetball. I have worked with all these patterns.
Recently I worked with a young Pilates studio owner who told me she could no longer even lift her leg to tie her shoe laces. We talked about the repetitive patterns involved in many Pilates exercises. I gave her work to do to release these restricted areas. When I saw her again, she was a new woman. I hoped the work I had given her had been the cure. However, she explained, “Yes, that helped, but what really corrected the problem was that I stopped doing the exercises that were causing the problem.” Changing what she was doing allowed her body to find a renewed sense of balance.
On the other hand, I also work with clients who have very sedentary jobs and struggle to move from one position to another. Often as people age, getting up and down from the floor becomes problematic. The sail cannot be too taut, but it also cannot be too loose. Sails that are too loose have no power to move us forward. It really is all about balance.
Balance is the goal. I know I am a little late with New Year’s resolutions advice, but if I could give my best advice it would be to seek balance, in everything. Balance is tricky. It is not a static event. We can never accomplish it and then cross it off our list of “things to do.” Think of some experience you have had where you have tried to balance—such as balancing on one leg in tree pose or balancing while walking along a beam or railroad tie.
It is challenging—and it is a constant effort.
We feel ourselves falling in one direction, so we correct ourselves and move slightly in the other direction, then back again as we feel ourselves leaning too far the other way. These vacillations can become erratic enough that we eventually fall. The smaller the vacillations, the steadier we feel, but there are always at least slight corrections in either direction. And so it is with our life journeys. I repetitively teach that we can’t correct what we don’t notice. If we notice when we are becoming imbalanced, then we can quickly move the other direction to correct the imbalance. This process can keep us sailing in the direction we want to go.
My journey, and my family’s journey, is receiving some challenging winds. I believe we can find the strength and flexibility and balance we need to weather the storm. My deepest appreciation to everyone who has extended their love and support and help.