Engage the core.
Last year, my husband and kids bought me a slackline for Mother’s Day.
Basically, it’s a 2-inch wide tightrope strung between two trees. You can balance on it, walk along it, perform tricks, or even practice yoga on it.
When I first set the line up in our backyard, I couldn’t even stand up on it. But over the past 9 months, I’ve learnt to get up on the line, stand on the line, walk along the line (forwards and backwards!) and occasionally find enough mental and physical agility to strike a simple yoga pose on the line.
All of this has taken balance and practice and headspace.
But I have come to realise something as I perch 30cm off the grass, trying not to wobble:
Balance is exhausting.
Every muscle is taut, trying desperately not to over- or under-compensate, lest I fall. My mind needs to be focused and singular in its attention, lest I fall. My sights need to be set on a specific spot and not shift around, lest I fall.
10 minutes spent trying to remain balanced on a length of rope, and I’m head-tired.
If balancing on a line for just 10 minutes is so exhausting when there’s nothing more important than ego up for grabs, why do we think we can manage to keep a busy, full life perfectly balanced and not struggle under the pressure?
Undoubtedly, balance is necessary when trying to stand still on a length of nylon suspended off the ground, but I’m convinced that in life, balance isn’t a goal we should be pursuing.
But it’s undeniable that life requires a certain level of agility. We spring from mum to wife to friend to co-worker to daughter to chauffeur to chef to umpire to woman and back again dozens of times a day. And we try to strike a balance. We try to evenly distribute our weight (our selves) across all areas of life. Try not to lean too far one way, lest we fall.
But I’ve discovered, if I may take the slackline analogy a little further, it’s not merely balance that keeps me on the line. In fact, the majority of my staying power comes from my core.
The muscles at my centre, that keep everything pulled in and solid.
When I’m able to engage those muscles (and after two kids, it’s not as easy as it used to be), I can relax the rest of me just a little. Balancing on the line doesn’t feel nearly as exhausting when I manage to engage my core. It’s still hard work, but it’s coming from a solid place, rather than a frantic, tiring, wobbling attempt to stay up.
So the question is, in trying to find a realistic approach to living a balanced life, what is your core?
What is at the centre of your life? What makes you feel solid and strong? When it’s engaged, what makes you feel relaxed?
Is it family? Faith? Friends?
I can almost assure you that the peripheral stuff – the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the football team you support – none of this makes up your core. None of that stuff will help you to feel more balanced.
In fact, if you throw too much weight behind those things that don’t matter, you might find yourself struggling to retain any kind of balance at all.
But if you focus on the core – on the things that really are important – and relegate the peripheral stuff to where it belongs, you might find the struggle to maintain balance just a little less exhausting.
So next time you feel strung out, worn out, spread thin, try engaging your core.
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