As a kid I liked to balance on the teeter-totter. I liked it because it required the active participation of another person. I also liked it because it made me experience the highs and lows in life as ways to connect to the earth and the sky. I was scared of the grounding part, as there was a slight bump when landing. But I loved the soaring part – when I felt butterflies in my stomach and my mind was free. And my favorite of all, was that moment between the rising and the falling when for a split second I could look at my partner eye-to-eye. The scale was at a standstill, parallel to the ground, while our bodies were suspended into the air. That was the moment of total freedom and uninhibited spontaneity. That place of subtle balance made me feel at home. I was sure of my self, anchored in my truth and lifted above ground, where everything looked happy and free.
As I grew up the see-saw in the back yard became too small, I was too heavy to ride on it. But I would still go to it, sit on the lower edge that was close to the ground and wait for the circumstances in my life to lift me up again. I was now cradling, balancing on the work-life teeter-totter. From a narrow perspective this teeter-totter was scarier, but from a playful perspective it was always challenging and unexpected.
When I entered college my teacher asked me: “There’s work, and there’s life. How do you make the two get along?” Then she went on: “This is a puzzle you’ll be solving your entire career. People often talk about how much they value work-life balance, and they may even mean it. But the truth is, it’s going to be your task to create harmony between what you do and what you are.
I have observed this subtle dance of equipoise all my life and every time you try too hard to balance extremes, to unite opposites, to bridge polarities – you seem to fail. You fail not because you can’t do it, but because you are trying too hard, you are exerting too much effort and you are disturbing the natural balance of things. Being a pusher, I always put more energy into things than necessary. This led me to experience one extreme or the other. But never let me have a piece of mind. When I took up yoga, I started practicing religiously for 8 hours a day. When I did my homework I spent hours until I felt content. When I expressed loyalty to my friends, I was ready to sacrifice my needs at any time. When I loved, I attached unnecessarily and suffered. When I helped others I lost myself. Everything was so extreme. I was either too sick or too elated; too unconditional, or overly suspicious; too emotional or too aloof. I could never strike the right balance. Until I joined for a martial arts training in grad school and learned the Chinese art of moderation.
As I practiced the tenets of Taoism I began to juggle with paradox to realize that every action had a reflective counteraction, and that nature is an act of balance. I learned the rules of soft gaze, silky force, of smooth transitions and subtle movement. I could feel the electromagnetic energy pulsating through my body and glowing in space. My temper calmed down, my piercing gaze softened, my blind ambition was tamed. I learned that balance was unachievable – that it was a state of constant negotiation between opposites, a unity in plurality. As I stood perched, like a hawk on a tree branch, I could feel the inner motion that supported the stillness. I experienced the dance of paradox, the constant interplay of life principles.
Practicing the art of moderation in the studio and in the park helped me find the natural equilibrium between life and work. I was able to identity my needs clearly, and not to waste time trying to figure out what was best for me. I knew how to articulate my needs eloquently, and align those needs with the interests of others. The intense concentration exercises from Qi-Gong helped me clear up my focus and be present with what I was doing at the moment. I also learned that you cannot do everything by yourself. It is much stronger when you team up – so I put the bulk of energy in doing what I was good at and what I liked and I allowed others to shine with what they excelled in. This created a harmonious working climate. The Chinese art of moderation also taught me to accept imperfection, to strive to get better and to eliminate negative tendencies. Sometimes that meant to let things be and not push for them if they didn’t work out the way I planned. I cultivated flexibility and prioritized. Values and goals shift, so when you want to live a balanced life you have to be ready to re-evaluate and adapt.
I also learned to not dither. Clearly procrastination was no one’s friend, and it always drags things on forever without any constructive outcome. So I trained myself to make decisions quickly and act upon them instantly. When you don’t overthink your actions, and you suspend your doubts, you actually end up making the right choice intuitively.
Consistent martial arts training taught me to be fabulous and to own my thoughts, decisions and actions with confidence and grace. This helped instill confidence in others and benefited all projects I was working on. From the graceful form training I also picked up the art of not exerting too much or too little energy – but just enough. This helped me focus on the essentials. I discovered that not everything was equally important and that some things needed more attention than others, so I followed my gut.
Because Chinese martial art teaches coherent design and structure, I managed to organize myself much better, both in my thoughts and in my surroundings. I freed up space both literally and figuratively and found how much more time I actually had to get things done. Because I had more energy and better focus, I slept better, and I made time for all the important things in my life without compromising the quality of my work. As a result my diet adjusted naturally and the body craved only the foods that nourished it. I was a well-rounded individual, living a balanced life.
Except, I had one more thing to master. I had a hard time saying “No”.
Most importantly the Taoist concept of Ying & Yang showed me that in order to balance life with work I had to find the courage to refuse. This tied in with focusing on the essentials. We can’t take advantage of every opportunity, participate in every activity or respond to every request. So why kill ourselves trying? The secret to work-life balance is remembering that it’s a continuing quest; that is, you never really get there. Think of a teeter-totter. The object isn’t to achieve complete and permanent balance — it’s to enjoy the ride.
Balancing Yoga Routine: Equipoise (intermediate level)
This ingenious and fun Yogea routine allows you to experience balance as a constant quest of the self, and ride with its fluctuations to enjoy its highs and lows. The sequence starts standing, in order to ground you into the vortex of perpetual change. As you pendel your weight back and forth, right and left, right and down you find the middle ground where you feel stable and free. A gentle tree pose starts off the flow and then veers into active side bends and morphs into a perched Krishna pose and one-legged pigeon, hugging its wings into the heart. Standing grounding poses, alternate with balancing and hip opening lunges and sink into abdominal toners and side plank to ascend back up through balancing splits. The art of levity is tested by integrating standing consecutive balances with reclining twists; hip openers with shoulder binds. The hormonal balance is restored through active inversions and headstand variations, and the intestinal health is replenished through gut massage in suspended peacock pose. Supine poses introduce deeper detoxifying twists, while kneeling poses unfurl into deep hip-openers and forward bends. A cooling down focuses on calming the mind and meditating on the art of moderation.
Designed and performed by our inspiring Yogea teacher Marina Grubic.