I was in my holistic nutrition certification class, dutifully taking notes, when our instructor dropped a piece of wisdom that changed my life:
“If we’re always in balance, we might as well be dead.”
Wide-eyed, I stopped mid-note and looked up at her, incredulous. Wasn’t balance always the point? I felt simultaneous waves of shock and relief. She must be wrong, but if she was right, did this mean I could chill out a little?
For a long time being in perfect balance was my job. I was a professional dancer and a fitness instructor, the sort of person who did everything flawlessly while maintaining a casual, breezy demeanor about it. Life was NBD. I had everything under control.
Except I didn’t. I swung way off-balance by overtraining, winding up with stress fractures in my feet and shins and a case of adrenal fatigue. Trucking around Manhattan in a walking cast was the first sign that I needed to slow down, but it almost made things worse.
“It’s okay,” I cheerily told myself through gritted teeth. “You’ve gone off-center; you’ve done too much, but you’ll make a plan, a really good plan, and it will be fine and you’ll come back from this stronger and more efficient than ever. Balance is just around the corner.”
Searching for balance kept me in the lane of superficiality. I did all the things that Instagram, my job, and my by-all-means-necessary self deemed right with little regard for what my body actually needed.
The wellness industry tells us that balance, above all, is the best thing for us. As a holistic nutritionist, this is a message that I’m expected to sell as a lifestyle. Find balance to get in ideal shape. Prioritize it to maintain sanity and status at your high-stress, high-power job. Access it, and you can have it all. Just find balance. Go ahead, find it. It’s easy!
What a bunch of crap. For me, searching for balance kept me in the lane of superficiality; constantly seeking equilibrium fed my inner perfectionist. I did all the things that Instagram, my job, and my by-all-means-necessary self deemed right with little regard for what my body actually needed. I gave myself no space to acknowledge where I was in any given moment and had no insight into who I wanted to be. My damaged body called for a change; in the interest of a balanced facade, I ignored it.
Balance is not the even-keeled swing of a pendulum but, rather, a deep knowing of one’s own self.”
Ever since my pen stopped in that holistic nutrition class, I’ve tussled with the idea of balance as too much of a good thing. My quest for balance was just my familiar perfectionism, repackaged and rebranded in a wellness buzzword. I had swallowed the idea of balance as a perfectly curated life with planned, indulgent breaks; there was no room for improvisation, spontaneity, or feeling.
What I’ve come to believe is that balance is not the even-keeled swing of a pendulum but, rather, a deep knowing of self that allows us to mindfully listen to our body and its needs while honoring the fact that those needs are different from everyone else’s.
I often tell my clients that we’re working from this place: Eat, move, and live for how you want to feel. And while I’d like to think that this philosophy is my guiding light, the recovering perfectionist-do-gooder in me doesn’t always stay on the path.
Social media, a guilty party in the pursuit of Balance Above All, is often where I slip up. A few months ago, half-drunk on New Year’s Eve, I Insta-storied a photo from In-N-Out: me with some fries and “woops!” typed across the filtered photo. The next morning, I hastily deleted the story even though hundreds of people had already seen it. I was mortified that I’d allowed myself to be seen having some French fries, a move that was definitely off brand.
Judgement is an inside job. Balance was the permissive framework in which I could judge myself.
But if I had seen that story on someone else’s feed I probably would have laughed out loud and found relief in knowing a fellow trainer and nutritionist also indulges every once in a while, especially a few champagnes deep. Judgement is an inside job. Balance was the permissive framework in which I could judge myself.
Realizing that I was slipping into old habits under the guise of balance was a major “Aha!” moment for me. I’d given up one questionable behavior, perfectionism, only to find myself in thrall to another; the fear at the foundation of both of them—not meeting my own exacting expectations—was the same.
My new definition of balance, that deep internal knowing, means I’m now at a place where I’m really listening and trying to answer my body accordingly. Instead of squeezing my needs into a prescribed concept served up in the wellness vernacular, I’m figuring out what really serves me.
I certainly don’t have my happily-out-of-balance practice nailed down, and I think that may be the point. There are plenty of times I want to filter, edit and craft things to a tee (which, sometimes, is fun), but, as always, it’s the overdoing it that can be dangerous for our inner selves and psyche. As tempting as the idea of being perfectly out of balance might be, I’m enjoying this messy place of witnessing intently, breathing deeply, and summoning confidence to be my own best, non-judgmental advocate.
Most of the time.