Well Balanced Diet

I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!

I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).

But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!

Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.

My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.

I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!

I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!

Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?

Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!

Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!

But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.

I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.

I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you  “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!

A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!
A lovely, lovely run on Saturday!

Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.

I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!

 

 

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter July 16, 2013

Today, I worked fourteen hours. The end.

 
Ever have one of those days? This relates to an article I wrote on the fallacy of “balance” in life. We all assume we want “balance”, but balance, trying to keep everything equally attended to actually results in mediocrity in everything we attempt. Great things are done only by applying a great amount of energy to the related tasks, the trick comes in applying energy, in great amounts, to the right things, at the right time, so as to achieve excellence in all areas that require your attention. Herein lies another trick, determining which areas in your life require your attention, and which ones you really shouldn’t bother with. So many tricks. I recommend “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results ”, a book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Today, my only focus was work. I was scheduled to train for eight hours, and when that was done, having just returned from a two week vacation, I had six hours of very important administrative work to attend to, namely, my expense reimbursement reports. After eight hours on the phone with a client, and six hours of tedium entering expenses, scanning receipts, and all that, I. Am. Done. Wine.

There will be no effort or energy applied to any other area of my life; fitness, reading, studying, organizing, minimalizing, etc. Yes, I will eat, likely a frozen pizza I happen to have in the freezer, the last morsel of food I own, but I will not go grocery shopping. Not tonight. Other than that, a phone call to my Sweetie and this very short article. My energy for the day has been applied and none is left for any other important areas of my life.

Tomorrow will be a different story.

Correction

On balance.

I have written about balance, how we crave it, how to get closer to it. I have always admired my boyfriend for the balance he has in his life. I am always seeking more balance in mine. So, imagine my surprise when I started a new book today that says balance is a lie. Well, I stand corrected.

I started a book called “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papsan and in the very first chapter it goes into very convincing detail about how “balance” is a lie. It makes total and complete sense. What is balance?

bal·ance

/ˈbaləns/

Noun

An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

Verb

Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall: “a mug that she balanced on her knee”.

Synonyms

noun.  scales – equilibrium – equipoise – poise – scale

verb.  poise – weigh – equilibrate

When we speak of balance in life we are eluding to the balance of how we devote energies to things in life we consider important; work, family, health, friends, religion, politics, hobbies, etc. So, in it’s modified application, balance, as it pertains to life, would be, perhaps, “an even distribution of energy between activities in life to maintain equality”. Balance, then, in this sense would mean we would devote an equal amount of energy to everything in life we consider valuable. Is that practical? Is that even possible? So, you’re at work and you are given an assignment or project and you apply on a certain amount of energy to it so as to keep all else equal? How long will you keep your job with that mindset? Likewise, you are caring for your family, there are two soccer games, a Girl Scout meeting later and some help required on math homework. Do you just stop the car between the Girl Scout meeting and the soccer game because you’ve exhausted the allotted amount of energy on family for the day? Of course not. In life, things need to be done, some things before others, and we will have to apply enough energy to complete the task or activity to satisfaction. In other words, we prioritize tasks and activities and apply the appropriate amount of energy to get to the desired point of completion of each within a certain period of time. Make sense? This will require uneven amounts of energy to different activities, on a regular basis. So, we really don’t want balance, nor is it even desirable.

The trick is to know your limits; how much energy to apply to each facet of your life. This, again, is called prioritization and is a skill that takes a great deal of thought, planning and constant adjustment. The book suggests, convincingly, that we do not excel at much unless we devote a great deal of energy to it. If we devote equal amounts of energy to everything in life, we will achieve mediocrity in all we do. Think of those big assignments in school, or studying for final exams, a great deal of energy was applied and without it, a mediocre result was achieved. It was a temporary application of a great deal of energy, and once completed, the energy could be focused in another area. We have similar experiences with work. And with family. And friends. And everything else worthwhile in life.

I was in a yoga class yesterday and we assumed the “tree pose”, one of my favorites because, frankly, I’m quite good at it. In the tree pose, you stand on one foot and lift the other so that it is off the ground and, if you can, place the flat of your foot against the inner thigh of the supporting leg. Most would say you “balance” to maintain the position, but even that is untrue. Balance; put or kept in a steady position so as not to fall. Balance assumes no movement, think of a scale that is balanced, both sides are so equal that movement ceases. In a yoga pose, the tree pose especially, you are moving all over the place, even if you are capable of maintaining the position so well you appear motionless. In fact, there are probably very few muscles that aren’t moving, adjusting, correcting. This is true in dance, too, the dancers appear to be “balanced”, when in fact many fine muscles in the supporting legs and in the core of the body are moving, constantly, to maintain that position. That’s what my muscles did yesterday so I could maintain tree pose, they shifted and twitched and flexed and tightened. So, rather than balancing, my muscles were correcting my position, constantly, so it could be maintained.

In life, in order to accomplish what needs to be done, beyond mediocrity, we need to devote unequal amounts of energy to given activities. We need to make corrections, constantly, so we can shift our energies from one activity to another, to the satisfaction of that activity. We need to identify and apply priorities to our activities to know just how much correction, or energy, is required.

In “The ONE Thing”, the author quoted a passage from a James Patterson book “Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas”. In the passage the author suggests you should imagine life as a game where you are juggling five balls; work, family, health, friends and integrity. Work is a ball made of rubber and will bounce back if dropped. The remaining four balls are made of glass and will likely break if dropped. And, in life, hopefully, we learn this lesson before we have spent too much energy on work and not enough on the other, more fragile things in life.

Even in love we are never in balance, we are always adjusting and making corrections. In a relationship, there is always change. It is impossible to expect two people to progress, in the same direction, at the same rate. In new relationships, we begin thinking we have much in common. As time passes, we usually find that we have significant differences, if not incompatibilities. Perhaps there is fear, insecurity, distrust or hurt from past experiences as a catalyst, or different goals, or different timelines. This does not necessarily doom the relationship. Necessarily. If the parties involved are able, and willing, little adjustments, or corrections, can be made and things can continue to progress. Established relationships are no different, they’ve just made it through the neophyte phase. There will be changes, differences and even incompatibilities. Again, making adjustments or corrections will be the key to long-term success. It is not a matter of balance, but of corrections. No relationship, new or old, will ever be balanced; kept or put in a steady position so it does not fall. The key is making those adjustments, those corrections, to maintain the desired position – the happy relationship.

What applies to love applies to any other relationship; friendships, family, even relationships with your dog, or your horse. All will require adjustments and corrections as the relationship changes, for whatever reason.

Is this not true for driving? I had a blissful drive today, between Napa and Sacramento. Once on Interstate 80, especially when traffic is light, I like to think of my drive as “high speed therapy”. Let’s just say I like to push the limit a bit. I like to drive fast. And not get caught. And, like the tree pose, I am quite good at it. But, I did see two CHP officers as I was hurtling along at not quite twenty miles an hour over the posted limit. What did I do? I adjusted, I corrected. I applied a little less energy to my activity. In driving, we are constantly monitoring other cars, subtle changes in the road; curves, inclines, declines, bumps in the road, police officers, and for each of these, we will adjust many things, how much we accelerate, whether we need to apply the brakes, change lanes, turn or even swerve. All the while, though, we are trying to maintain a fairly constant rate of speed, whether faster or slower than the posted limit, which is the “balance” we are trying to maintain. I have a large digital speedometer on my dash and it is very easy to see (even from passing cars) what speed I am traveling at. I am not a fan of cruise control and without it, though I maintain an average speed, the actual speed fluctuates a great deal. It is not balance, not a steady rate, but a series of tiny adjustments or corrections based on a number of variables and activities.

So, in seeking a better balance in life, might I suggest you begin by making a correction? Balance is not attainable, but a series of adjustments to how you apply your time, your passion, your energy to those worthy interests in life is what will help you achieve that which you seek, that which you crave, that which you may find elusive. Make the correction.

 

Happy Place

I have been so grumpy lately. Me, the person who preaches “positive mental attitude” and always being “in charge of your own feelings”. Hey, at least I’m honest! No amount of wine seems to help. Truth? It just makes me grumpier when morning rolls around. And I’ve fallen into that vicious cycle of “one more glass of wine” in the evening, which then results in “one more cup of coffee” in the morning. I’ve switched to half-caf in an effort to regain control, as of yesterday, and I was nearly homicidal. Today I made it a little less half and a little more caf and so far no one has cowered when I’ve tried to “explain or clarify” something.

I know I’ve mentioned in previous articles, but I have moved five times in as many years. Maybe more. I may have lost count. I’ve packed and unpacked the same boxes several times and they all, finally, fell apart. Now I have $300 worth of nice, sturdy boxes, piled four high in my room, my office, and in the garage. Partly due to my independence, my freedom and my autonomy, all of which I cherish and nurture, I am the “floating family member”, moving in to assist with rent when my son’s roommates moved on to other schools, and now, moving in with Mom to help her keep up with the house I grew up in. Can you imagine the culture shock moving from a house with a twenty-something and friends to a house with someone on the far side of octogenarian? My life has gone from trips to the gym and the pub in the same evening to a brisk ten minute escorted walk down the toothpaste aisle at Target. I know that moving in to help my son, and then my mom, is the right thing to do, given my flexibility and adaptability, but geez. I also preach that “change is good”. Well, then, I should be in excellent fricking shape! Change is all I’ve had! Constant upheaval, a complete change of locale, having to find my “vibe”, places to shop, to work out, to hang out, and the constant packing and unpacking, temporarily take their toll on my usually sunny disposition.

The move in with Mom has been much harder than I anticipated. We are both very strong willed, opinionated women with slightly, or not so slightly, different outlooks on life. True, and she realizes it, the circumstances have provided quite a bit of good blog fodder. And made me really, really out of sorts. I feel like I am reeling to regain my balance, teetering, not sure if I’m going to land on my ass, on my face, or on my feet.

The recent relocation has been the most difficult. I love Sacramento. I miss Sacramento. I know it may seem like a weird place to love and to miss, but I do. It is a “just right” town. I left Napa for Sacramento thirty some years ago, for a reason. Sacramento is just big enough without being too big. There is plenty of really decent shopping, lots of nice new developments, a great restaurant scene, lots and lots and lots of outdoor recreation possibilities and a decent wine region an hour in any direction. On a clear day there’s a view of the Sierras to the east and the coastal range to the west. How cool is that? Okay, so you can count the number of clear days per year on your fingers and toes, but they are that amazing. And really, the three or four months of hundred degree temperatures aren’t really that bad.

Moving back to Napa is hard. I know, I know. Everyone I meet is so jealous, “you live in Napa?” Um. Yah. No big. True, there are better than stellar wineries within an hour and the restaurant scene is world class. So, too, are the prices. Shopping? Nothing. You either have to go to San Francisco, an hour and some, or, Sacramento, an hour and some. My gyms, all three, “national chains”, don’t have facilities here, causing me to have to pay to end my contracts early and find a local, “single location” gym. I know. First world problems. I’m a spoiled rotten bitch.

Work has had me a bit out of sorts, too. I’ve been dreading the go-go busy travel season, which begins, um, Monday and ends, maybe, in December. It has been our “slow season”, meaning we’ve been working from home re-writing our class materials. It has been nice working from home, I guess, though I don’t really feel quite at home, living out of boxes and all. And the work, re-writing materials? Mind numbing doesn’t even begin to describe the pain and suffering involved. So, beginning next week, I guess I’ll just unpack my boxes into my suitcases and, well, see ya. My life becomes a travelling road show. Ironically, my first two weeks of travel are to Sacramento! I’m making a list of restaurants and shopping and work-outs and hikes and visits and …

Today, however, marked a change. Maybe even a paradigm shift, a much needed paradigm shift. First of all, I worked with a client on the phone and web, providing eight hours of software training. I dreaded getting up at 5:00 AM to call in on time, but once I was online and talking and joking and providing a valued service to these happy and appreciative people, it kind of rekindled what it is about my job I love. The people. Bonus, not monetary, no, but a figurative bonus. Beginning that early, I got to end my workday early, and begin “my day” while it was still bright and sunny outside! The veil of grumpiness budged, ever so slightly.

I went on a mission last week to try to figure out which of the three local gyms I am going to sign my paychecks over to. I toured them all and was given a couple free passes to each. It’s kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, Scarlett and the three gyms.

The first one was nice, clean, had a decent offering of classes, including Zumba and yoga and spinning. But, the equipment wasn’t all that and it was affiliated with the local hospital, which, when approaching the age of fifty, is not something I really wanted to think about. I mean, most gyms have defibrillator devices posted on the wall, here and there, but I don’t think they actually ever get used. This gym had, like, crash carts, and the staff all wore surgical scrubs and stethoscopes and it was a little too close to the emergency room for my comfort.

The second gym was in the “supposed-to-be-trendy” downtown Napa area. Downtown Napa is about four blocks long and two blocks wide and consists of nice restaurants that open for a few months, then close, leaving the investors in ruin, a few short-lived tasting rooms, and a couple of really scary and totally desperate shopping venues aimed at, well, my mother. There are a ton of vacancies, and in an effort to keep up appearances for the tourists, the windows are full of displays of local artists. It all looks quite nice, but is an illusion. There, in the midst of all this “splendor”, a gym, that used to be a Woolworths, complete with a breakfast counter serving, somehow, greasy pancakes, for most of my childhood. As I toured the gym with the overmedicated customer service representative who reminded me of Joan Cusack, in character as an overmedicated, struggling not to be middle-aged woman, all I could smell was an overwhelming deodorizer-slash-air-freshener, with underlying tones of musty sweat and somehow greasy pancakes. To top this delight to my overactive olfactory senses, they were missing a crucial piece of equipment, the stair climber. I refuse to even use my free passes there, even they smell like strong air deodorizer, musty sweat and greasy pancakes. It is hard to hold your breath and pant at the same time.

The third gym is what I would call a “glitz palace”. A showcase. It is modern, bright, light and vibrant. Appointed with expensive tile half way up all the walls and nice, expensive, shock absorbent flooring. There are windows everywhere, and beautiful, clean, state of the art equipment in several locations throughout, each with a different view. So I can work out and overlook the pool one day, the basketball court another and the free weight room another. I love a workout with a view! All this and only thirty dollars more per month than the other two gyms. But, it was extremely well ventilated, had free Wi-Fi and two stair climbers. The class offering was decent and the clientele did not look like they’d be in need of resuscitation any time soon. I used my second and final free pass today. After an hour of intense cardio and a good day of working with actual people, my foul temper was, yes, almost as sunny and warm as the weather outside.

Exercising is very important, not only for my long-term health, my ability to fit into my nice jeans I rewarded myself with over a year ago for reaching my weight loss goal, to my energy and my productivity, but, probably most importantly, to my disposition. My mom isn’t in tune with this, yet. But K-man, my good, good man from the far, far north, he knows. He can tell within the first two words of a conversation with me whether I’ve managed to exercise that day, or not. If I am sad, or mad, or out of sorts, he will often say something like “why don’t you go for a run, or go to the gym, you know you’ll feel better.” He is right, always. I do feel better.

Tomorrow, my last day for mind-numbing project work. Ugh. I will drink my half CAF and fuss with headers and footers and pagination, page breaks and font size, consistent indentations for bullet lists and things that are not at all natural for an accountant to be doing. But with mind numbing project work and no scheduled class to teach, I will have the freedom and flexibility to go to the “glitz palace” gym and tithe a portion of my earnings and partake in a much needed attitude adjustment. I have found my new happy place!

Strength and Balance

What does strength have to do with balance? Everything!

Try this; looking straight ahead, standing, draw one foot up so you are standing on the other foot. Don’t hold onto anything for support. Now count. How long can you hold it without touching the floor with your other foot or without grabbing onto something for balance?

If you practice yoga or Pilates or do a significant amount of core strength exercises, I’m sure you were able to balance on one foot for quite a while longer than you were able to before your practice. Yoga, Pilates and core strength exercises build the strength, the core strength we need, to simply balance.

Elderly people that you see wobbling and tottering about as they walk through the grocery store have lost a lot of that core strength required to help them keep their balance. This is why elderly people are so prone to falling. For those of you who practice yoga, Pilates or core strength training, just how many elderly people do you see in your classes? Few, if any. And for those few, I’m guessing they stand more solidly and walk with more stability than those who don’t.

When was the last time you walked on a curb in a parking lot like you would a balance beam in gymnastics? Not since you were a kid? I do. I do, every time I am met with the opportunity. I will even do so carrying a grocery bag, or two, and my ridiculously large purse. Balance is very important, now, and as we grow older. And balance requires significant core strength.

When did I come to realize this? No one ever told me that balance was improved with improved core strength. I found out when I went on my first ten-day backpacking trip as part of the leadership team for a Boy Scout adventure. I was cardiovascularly fit enough to go on the trip, even though I was dangerously close to the upper weight limit for a woman my height and age.

I hiked and backpacked with the group who would be participating in this great adventure to gain experience and to be comfortable with the group and with my equipment. On one training hike, we decided to camp overnight just on the other side of a stream. There was no bridge, and so, to get to the other side of the stream, we had to leap a few feet, just further than we could step. The first man leapt easily across with his full pack strapped to his back. The next man just as easily. And the next. I was the only woman. I stepped up onto the rock we were to leap from, with my full pack strapped to my back. I could feel that I was losing my balance and I frantically waved my arms in an attempt to regain it. I fell, pack first, and was wedged in the most embarrassing position possible, between two large boulders. It took three men to right me. I was relieved of my pack and I managed to leap across the cold, fast moving water. Almost. Luckily I had waterproof boots on. I was the charter member of what I called “the turtle club”. Anyone who fell for any reason on any trek thereafter joined me in membership. We have three members.

With the training hikes behind me, the actual ten-day backpacking adventure was upon us. I was a bit nervous. Really nervous. We hiked nearly seventy five miles in those ten days. It was a particularly wet, rainy summer in New Mexico and the creeks and streams were all full. Many of the trails we needed to traverse crossed cold, swift water. Sometimes multiple times. On one very rainy day, in a very steep canyon, we crossed on stream thirty eight times. To cross the streams, there were “bridges” that were crafted from a single, split log somewhere between six and twelve inches wide. With all the rain, these log bridges were incredibly slippery, in spite of the hashmarks hacked into the wood with an ax. I was a nervous wreck, but, somehow, guts, I think, in spite of my size and lack of core strength, I made it across all the log crossings without incident.

A couple of years later, I returned to New Mexico for another ten-day backpacking trek. I was even more cardiovascularly fit, and had trained primarily hiking up and down very steep hills. It was a much drier year, and there were very few slippery log water crossings, I was still nervous and felt incredibly at risk for falling, in spite of my improved physical condition. Luckily, again, no turtle club incident.

The third time I returned to New Mexico for a ten-day backpacking trip, I was at the extreme lower weight range for my age, gender and height. In addition to intense cardio training, I incorporated yoga and core strength training. Slippery log crossings and precarious leaps across voids presented no trouble whatsoever. I was in far better command of my balance. Primarily because of the strength training I incorporated, though I’m sure the significant loss of weight makes both strength training and balance an easier road to hoe.

Now, let’s talk about something other than backpacking and the turtle club. Balance. Not in the sense of standing on one foot without support, or tottering, wobbly elderly people, or crossing slippery log bridges over cold, raging creeks. What of balance in life?

Balance in life is, first of all, quite complex, and secondly, very personal, being unique to each of us for our own reasons and circumstances. But, in short, it is the ability to identify and focus on those things we consider important in our lives, afford them each their proper due, their proper energy and priority, and to be able to maintain that focus, energy and priority with shifting and changing circumstances. Like leaping across a creek with a full backpack strapped to your back or crossing a raging, cold creek on a skinny, slippery log, takes a great deal of strength, concentration and, well, guts.

How do we gain the inner strength to achieve balance in our lives? Believe it or not, yoga may again provide some help, but only in that it is a contemplative and meditative endeavor. Not just good for the body and for your core strength, but good for your mind and your mental strength.

The strength we need to achieve to become more balanced in life will first of all require us to exercise, much like we would to be able to balance on one foot unsupported or while walking along a curb or balance beam. We need to exercise self discovery, we need to exercise our ability to shift our focus with changes that occur in our lives, both short term and long term. We need to know what we stand for, before we can practice standing on, we need to know our own, personal core values in order to establish and adjust or focus, and to prioritize what’s important right now.

Like balancing in tree pose, life balance takes a great deal of regular practice and is something we are never truly perfect at. Why is yoga not an Olympic sport? There is no perfection, no perfect 10.0 score. Yoga is a personal journey, a practice. There is never a “perfect” in yoga, there is always room for improvement. The same is true with our practice in life balance, it is a very personal journey, and a continual process. The core values we have this year, may be different next year as circumstances in our lives change. Our ability to have clarity and focus to afford each core value it’s appropriate amount of energy is a practice that must be exercised constantly. Or lost. Like our ability to balance while walking on a curb in the parking lot at the grocery store, bags in hand.

My challenge to you, a double scoop of challenge. Acquire strength. Learn balance. Both physically and metaphorically. Find ways to practice both, regularly, if not daily, and I promise you, even in your golden years, you’ll be able to keep upright in the slipperiest of conditions, and you’ll have the inner peace and tranquility afforded only those few that know what balance in life is, and how to achieve it.

Namaste.

Show Me a Man

Show me a man who knows balance in life; a man who works very hard, but knows the value of a enjoying the stillness of morning. A man who can perform any task offered him, however daunting, however physical, however long. A man who cherishes a few moments swinging in the hammock on the porch in the early evening just as the ravens pass overhead on their ritual path. Show me a man skilled in many trades and who can grow a garden where many struggle. Show me a man that knows he could earn far more by working longer hours, days, weeks, months, years, but knows that money won’t buy back the time he spent in toil, and so chooses a simpler, less extravagant lifestyle.

Show me a man with integrity; a man who will quickly admit his mistakes, even if it means less money in his pocket at the end of the day. A man who is honest about his feelings at any moment in time. A man accountable for every thought, action and deed. Show me a man that will do today what he says he will. Show me a man known for his good word because he has always lived up to his word. Show me a man that makes no excuses. Show me a man who looks for the best deal, but only if it is fair and honest.

Show me a man with wealth beyond measure; not a man with a big paycheck, solid portfolio, an important title, pricey real estate, a luxury automobile, for these are not true measures of wealth. The fickle economy, changes in technology, the volatility of the markets, can bring a man with tangible wealth to his knees in a moment. Show me a man with true wealth; a man without debt, a home that is paid for, a man who lives within his means, a man that knows the value of a dollar earned and a dollar saved, a man with a practical outlook on the future, a man that values what he owns, a man that has long standing relationships and a good name in his community, a man that is able to do any job, work hard, and be proud of his work at the end of the day.

Show me a man with compassion; a man who will open his home to those in need. A man who will teach someone disadvantaged the value of earning their keep, of saving a portion of their pay, of developing themselves so that they may become independent. Show me a man who will represent his friend in front of someone who seeks to take advantage of them. Show me a man that will listen to the stories of the old, the ambitions of the young, the concerns of a friend, the tears of a lover.

Show me a man with respect; a man who can live off the land but doesn’t gloat for his conquests. A man who understands the balance of nature and when the balance is being tipped, realizes it is better to have less this year to hopefully have more in the next. Show me a man who maintains a friendship with his high school English teacher. Show me a man who will take an elderly man fishing so his wife won’t worry.

Show me a man who is handsome; a man who doesn’t look like he walked off the cover of a magazine, but a man with a genuine smile. A man who cares for himself, his hair, his skin, his teeth, but not out of vanity. Show me a man with kind, smiling eyes and a playful grin. Show me a man that takes pride in his appearance and even more pride in his character.

Show me a man who is strong; not a man who works out at the gym to create muscles that will rarely, if ever, be used, other than to impress others. Show me a man who is strong enough to work incredibly hard, physically, all day, every day. Show me a man who can swing an ax, who can build a shelter single-handedly, who can fix anything and fix it right, a man who can climb a steep hillside, a man who can hunt for his own food and manage what he has claimed.

Show me a man with patience; a man who develops lasting friendships, a man who meets a woman at the wrong time and waits until it’s the right time. Show me a man who will work, save, then buy. Show me a man who will do with less to enjoy life more. Show me a man who will do without rather than compromise his savings.

Show me a man that knows how to communicate; a man who will be honest about his past, his present and his plans for the future. Show me a man who will patiently tell his lover what he likes, what he doesn’t. Show me a man who will listen before he speaks, and speaks that which is worth listening to. Show me a man who likes a lively debate, but not for the sake of triumph. Show me a man who can express himself without the constant use of explicatives. Show me a man that knows his turn in conversation. Show me a man with a kind, even tone, a man that speaks softly that he will be listened to, not a man that yells to be heard.

Show me a man that is intelligent; not a man with an accumulation of diplomas and degrees hung upon the wall that demonstrate only the completion of some curriculum. Not an intelligence measured by an institution, but an intelligence demonstrated in how he conducts his life. Show me a man that understands life, understands people, understands the world, from paying careful attention, remembering valuable lessons, applying practical wisdom, knowledge and discernment. Show me a man that learns a lesson, remembers it and applies it. Show me a man that can educate himself in anything to accomplish what must be done. Show me a man that knows himself.

Show me a man unlike any other; a man who can, by himself, throw a dinner party for eight, a man who can bake not just bread, but brioche, a man who has a tidy home. Show me a man who puts thought into every task, a man who builds his home so that his bedroom window has a unique view, that he may someday share that view with someone he adores. Show me a man who is able to think of the creation and also build it. Show me a man that doesn’t expect more of people, but inspires them to expect more of themselves.

Show me this man, the rarest of rare, an unexpected treasure, the man of my dreams. My dream come true.