We’ve all heard the phrase “everything in moderation.” You could say that this is the theme for this post. Too much or too little of any one thing in life will bring us closer to death. Too much food for instance, and we put ourselves at risk of obesity and eventually heart disease. Too little sleep and our minds lose touch with reality, while our bodily systems begin to fail from lack of rest. Another way of saying to take everything in moderation is that Life is a Balancing Act. Not only do we want to balance our daily lives, but everything we do in our daily life from sleeping, eating, working, playing, thinking, meditating, loving, and beyond. When we find the perfect balance of all forces present in our life, we can strive for perfection of each of the activities we pursue. This is a guide to reaching that balance.
Note: If you read my last post, you will notice that I am regressing slightly from the mental and spiritual realms into the physical. This is because I believe it crucial (especially for those in early stages of development) to balance our physical life before moving on to our higher states of being. I will explore them in an ascending order to show the ideal hierarchy of complete balance for every individual.
Sleeping vs. Waking
Let’s start where we all start; waking up. If you’re like me, then you love sleep. Dreams come in an endless harmonious stream of images and feelings, your body always feels rested, and your mental processes are slow and non encumbering. However, sleeping your life away is hardly productive and can be detrimental to your relationships, job, hobbies, and most of all: your health. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Deadly Sin known as Sloth, which constitutes a person who is so lazy that they neglect all earthly responsibilities. When you become the Sloth, you let your muscles atrophy, your mind becomes less acute, and no one is going to want to hang out with you, no matter how comfy your bed is. On the flip side, not sleeping enough will bring very strange consequences. Mostly, you will experience insomnia, which is extremely poor for your mental health, and disrupts most physical processes that your body employs. Without rest, your mind and your body will suffer, and you will not be as productive or happy as you possibly could be with a balanced sleep schedule. Scientific studies vary on the appropriate amount of sleep, and this is because every body is different, as is every physical routine. With more exercise, your body probably needs more sleep. A recent article has touted that 6 hours total, broken into a 3 hour block to start the night, with a 3-4 hour late night waking period, and then finally another 3 hour block will provide the best results for a balanced lifestyle and plenty of energy.
Eating vs. Activity
Another Deadly Sin, eating too much is known as Gluttony. I think I can skip the scientific results of eating too much, but just to reiterate; overeating causes the body to build fat reserves that are not needed, which not only makes the body work harder, but can put pressure on and eventually clog arteries throughout the body. This of course leads to obesity, which is the number one cause of heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States). So, eating a proper amount is important. Not eating enough is dangerous as well, though. Your body needs nutrients in order to function properly, and the best way to get those nutrients is from food. We also need energy, which comes in the form of calories. You cannot get calories from anything besides food. Balancing the caloric intake of fat, protein, and carbohydrates is important as well, since overemphasizing on any of these can lead to health problems. Again, we could talk forever about how much, how often, and what exactly to eat, so let’s get to ‘the meat’ of it. The most important aspects I have learned about eating healthily in my years as a personal trainer and nutritionist, I can tell you that a hearty breakfast is your best bet for a great day. Loading up on carbohydrates in the morning will give you tons of energy and get your metabolism firing on all cylinders. Stay away from fat which will make you lethargic, and protein which won’t really be converted to usable energy unless you are about to or have just lifted weights. After a nice breakfast, a mid morning snack is healthy and will help stave off the ‘hangry’ notions people like to get at lunchtime. For this I suggest some fruit, a granola bar, or even a handful of crackers. I again would avoid fatty foods, as they can give you a little bit of food coma. Protein is very nice here if you have some, because your body is in full swing usually by this time and can supplement your muscles right away. Next of course would be lunch, but not what most people consider for lunch. I suggest making lunch smaller, such as a light salad, veggies and hummus, more fruit, or a hearty grain piece of toast with avocado. Early afternoon is the time to feed your head with lots of nutrients to get you through the mid-afternoon lull. Stay away from fats and heavy carbs (pasta, etc); they will make the next 3-4 hours drag on and make you extremely lazy. After a late afternoon exercise session (I will go over this soon), I like to load up on protein and finish off with a fatty treat. When your muscles are screaming, they soak up protein and heal stronger and more layered than they were before, taking up more mass in your body and displacing fat deposits. A little fat while your body is still in high energy mode will assure that your stomach will be pleased but your hips and tummy won’t bulge. If you desire a snack before bedtime, try to give yourself at least 2 hours before lying down for shut eye, and avoid carbs here (as they provide energy). If you’re still hungry, a little fat or protein is OK, because it means your body wants to supplement the activity from your day.
Now, to address activity. I cannot stress how important daily physical activity is. I don’t care if it’s walking, jogging, playing a sport, deep stretch routines (yoga/pilates), or lifting weights; JUST BE ACTIVE! 30 minutes a day is the recommended minimum for all healthy adults. I, however, suggest more if possible. My routine is simple, easy to duplicate, and not too strenuous. I suggest you find your ideal routine that can be used every day, wherever you are, and with minimal setup time. For myself, I like to start my day with a 20 minute stretch routine that invigorates my muscles and gets my mind sharp. I usually do this before my breakfast, but after my cup of tea. In the mid-late afternoon, I engage in a little more physical practice of vinyasa yoga, where I work up a little sweat and boost my metabolism. This helps me spark an appetite and take care of my body all at the same time. Shooting for two 30 minute sessions a day will help you make massive steps in your development, and allow room for growth as well. Without exercise, you will have much less energy, and your food will not digest nearly as quickly. It is possible to overexercise, of course. Unless you’re a professional athlete (or aspiring triathlete), more than 2 hours per day is overkill. Being sore all day is not the overall goal of exercising. Neither is getting so ripped that people call you a muscle head. Make sure that your goal is fitness and a balanced level of health so that you aren’t working your body too hard. People who wish to perform at a high level of physical fitness should always consult a trainer.
Working vs. Playing
“All work and no play makes John a dull boy.” The flip side can also be bad: all play and no work makes John a broke ass. Obviously there is a healthy balance to find between doing those things you love and doing what you need to do in order to survive. I for one have gone through both extremes; overworking myself to the point of physical and mental breakdown, and playing so hard that I neglected many of my responsibilities and made my living situation much more difficult. The key here I would say for any person is to only work as much as you need to. How do you know what is ‘needed?’ My rule for work is to take care of your basic living expenses: shelter, food, transportation, communication, and then to be able to pay for your fun. Obviously, this implies that the more extravagantly you would like your necessities to be taken care of, the more you will have to work. I for one suggest a minimalist lifestyle, but you can choose for yourself. As for your play time, my motto has always been to ‘earn your fun,’ meaning that everything fun you do should be a celebration for yourself after you have raised the resources needed to accomplish your play time successfully. This one is simple, but will be different for every person based off of means and preferences. Jobs aren’t the easiest to come by nowadays, so sometimes living simply will be your only option. That’s OK, and I will talk more on how to accept whatever situation life may be putting you through right now.
Thinking vs. Open Mind
Now for mental balance! We have balanced our bodies in every way we know how, so let us balance our minds. I am what you would call a classic over-thinker; my mind tends to overanalyze everything it experiences or considers, to the point of mental exhaustion. Many people (especially men) are prone to this. The opposite of this person is someone who never thinks and sort of just floats throughout their day. You might call them an ‘airhead,’ but I prefer to avoid titles and just say that they are going with the flow. This style of brain use is healthy, but as with most things, only with moderation. So how do we find the balance between the two? The best way to avoid overthinking is to challenge your brain daily. Whether it be crossword puzzles, memory testing, intellectual reading, a debate club, or practicing a new language, any brain activity that is outside your usual realms of school, work, or lounging about will be beneficial here. Your brain will get ‘exercise’: your synapses will start to fire quicker and you will be able to mentally process problems faster and more accurately. Not only does this satisfy the needs of the over-thinker, but it actually gives your mind a sense of satisfaction in the day’s work; it learned something new therefore it has fulfilled its purpose.
Having an open mind throughout the day is very important in order to be able to experience the happenings of the day objectively and without judgment. However, if you leave your mind open all the time, you leave yourself susceptible to mental laziness and an air of not caring. We will talk more about acceptance soon, but having an open mind is the first step to having full acceptance of what happens to you in your daily life. Having an open mind means being observant to your surroundings, allowing others to speak first, thinking before you speak, not worrying about things you cannot change, not dwelling on the past, or simply put: living in the moment. Balancing this with daily brain challenges will bring peace and satisfaction to your mind.
Realism vs. Optimism
Some people say you can either be one or the other. I say, screw that. Realism and Optimism both serve their purposes in our daily lives and therefore both must be considered. Too much realism, and you can essentially become a pessimist; not allowing for any consideration of what may happen outside of our current perceptions of reality, and therefore greatly limiting your perspective and quite possibly your happiness as well. Too much optimism, on the other hand, and you will probably annoy the crap out of people. Only focusing on the positive outcome of a situation without considering the negative can leave you unprepared for life, and make it hard to ever make substantial progress in any area you work on. That is why the ultimate balance here is to “have your head in the clouds while your feet are on the ground.” Having a healthy dose of optimism will make your day brighter, your smiles bigger, and your ideas grander. Having a strong sense of realism to back up your optimism will provide you with tangible steps to reach those grandiose ideas, as well as give your brain more reason to keep that smile permanently stretched across your face, because you will have the calm assurance that everything you are doing is based in reality. We are obviously getting into the more intangible realm of balancing our lives now, but I do have some tools for you to help balance your optimism with realism or vice versa.
If you are a hardcore realist, then you will want to set aside time daily (usually 15-30 minutes) to just brainstorm. Don’t judge, don’t consider the outcome, don’t even think about how possible the idea may be; just free your mind to all options. Eventually you can expand this session to an hour or two daily, giving you plenty of time to think what life could be like if anything were possible (for it truly is if we believe it). They say that “the only limitation that exists is the mind that perceives the limitation.” Practicing optimism and free thinking will help you release the need to know everything that happens in your life and will make you seem like a lot less of an asshole (pardon my french).
If you happen to be one of those optimists that find themselves being called an ‘Idealist,’ then I have a great activity for you. Set aside some time daily (15-30 minutes) to PLAN OUT your next day. I know, this is a scary concept, but it will give you a framework for how to be efficient with your time, and to find tangible steps to accomplishing your lofty goals for yourself and the world. Eventually, you can expand this planning period to include the next week, month, and eventually one or multiple years into the future. Don’t worry about getting to this point right away, just focus on creating a block schedule of activities for yourself that you know you can follow, eventually dividing your blocks into smaller and smaller increments of time until you can plan your entire day in 15 minute sections. When you are there, you are ready to start planning further into the future.
Intention vs. Acceptance
Both intention and acceptance can be viewed as quite advanced mental processes. When you have the powers of critical thought and of foresight, then you have the ability to practice both intention and acceptance. Intention is something that is extremely useful for setting and accomplishing goals, and is key in The Law of Attraction. It is the power of the mind to bring thoughts into reality. Some even call this manifestation (which everyone has the innate ability to achieve through meditation and practice). Whenever you embark on a journey, a workout session, a meal, a meditation practice, a workday, or otherwise, setting an intention for that activity will make it incredibly more successful. The exact effectiveness of intention is extremely difficult to measure (although some scientists are getting close), but it is nonetheless very helpful. You not only will be visualizing your activity playing out exactly as you intended, but you will be more focused on the activity at hand, thus living more in the moment and more able to accept what is happening around you. Setting an intention for every single activity in your daily life may be a little too strenuous, though. It is important to balance your goals for the day with a healthy appreciation for the randomness of life. Not everything will go as you planned, and in fact many things may not (even with intention setting). If you don’t allow for changes to the plan, ie curves in the road, then you will be consistently let down due to your high expectations.
To relieve the stress that comes with having too detailed a plan or too high of expectations, you must practice acceptance. This means going with the flow. When we talked about open-mindedness, we mentioned being observant, being patient, not worrying, and not focusing on the past. This all boils down to living in the moment. When you can completely accept the environment and events occurring around you objectively, you release the need for your desired outcome to be met. Rather, you adjust your mentality to acceptance of whatever may come your way. This makes you more flexible and adaptable to change, which in turn brings more joy to each of your daily activities and makes you more open to what the future may hold. Being too accepting of what happens may just leave you without direction in life, and as someone with an overactive mind, this is a frustrating and confusing place to be. Supplementing your overarching acceptance of the beauty of life while placing a powerful intention on each of the actions within your control will help to shape the most Ideal reality for yourself. What could be better?!
Warning: the following section will be fully promoting the practice of meditation. If for some reason you are opposed to such a practice, I recommend you stop reading now.
Meditation vs. Physical Balance
Meditation is the state of being in ‘no-mind.’ It is a practice to free your mind from all thought, whether it be intention, critical thinking, or just day-dreaming. It is also a way to allow your body complete rest without sleeping or needing a recliner. That is why we strive to balance meditation with our physical being. Too much meditation and we neglect the physical realm; we can get lost in the bliss of having a mind devoid of thought. If you are one on a spiritual path, then obviously this will be your goal, but many of us strive to maintain worldly duties in order to enact positive change on those who may be seeking light. That is why it is important to maintain a healthy physical balance; sleeping well, eating properly, getting enough physical exercise, and having just as much fun as we end up working. All of these activities will promote a strong meditation practice, and will make coming back to our lunky bodies much more enjoyable.
Meditation vs. Mental Balance
As mentioned before, meditation will help you to completely free your mind of any thought. If we permanently meditated, this would be great, but unfortunately we eventually do return to our body and our mind full of thoughts. Now, if you aren’t mentally balanced, these thoughts can easily turn negative, especially when you know of the great happiness that can be achieved during meditation. It’s almost like coming off of a great high; your mind just can’t handle the world it exists in when it knows what joy is possible. This is why we strive for mental balance in our critical thinking, our realistic tendencies, and our intention setting. Having an open mind, practicing optimism, and experiencing full acceptance will counteract the limiting features of our brain, and help us to achieve perfect mental harmony, which is very nice to come back to after a great meditation practice.
Meditation vs. Prayer
I’m going to start by saying, I have no intention to bash religion in this section. Prayer is an effective tool for many healers, spiritual leaders, and followers of all faiths to help bring about miracles in health, prosperity, or otherwise. I would most closely relate prayer to intention, but instead of the power coming directly from your mind, you are asking a higher power to act on your behalf and bring your intention to reality. Meditation is a form of prayer that, coupled with a strong intention, can become even more powerful. Instead of a consistent wish or message being repeated to a higher being, meditation allows you to experience your own higher self, or soul, which connects you to the whole of the Universe. When you connect with the Universe, you come closer to Source, out of which all things (physical and nonphysical) come from. Meditation helps you to realize your intimate connection with the higher being, ie The Creator, or God; that you are one with this being, and so prayer is actually calling out to yourself. Therefore, meditation is a message going directly to Source, and will bring back direct creative energies from Source, rather than using an arbitrary medium. When we reach this realization, we are one step closer to full God-realization, where all things in the physical realm are made possible. You will have found balance between your earthly meditation practice, and your belief of a higher power that can alter our physical reality. We all have this ability within our souls; all it takes is a little Balance. Best wishes until next time loved ones. Namaste.