The idea of a balanced life can be challenging for many. What does it exactly mean, to be in balance? The Yin and Yang of life? Let’s look at the concept of Yin and Yang. These 2 opposing forces are always in play though they flow from each other. There seems to be polarity with the idea of Yin-Yang but these different opposing forces depend on each other and flow into each other which will bring a balance.
It is an interesting idea that there are always opposing forces in everything. Some people may be disconnected from this. But we live in this always, from the different seasons to our days that goes from light to darkness then back again. Always constant and in movement. They are interdependent and do not exist separately.
There is also at play the feminine (Yin) and the masculine (Yang). When you look at Yin and Yang having feminine and masculine traits, we tend to want to put more on one gender over the other when in fact we need both traits to be a balanced human being. Give and take in relationships and life. A time to be tender and time to be fierce. Duality is a hard concept for many. The idea of being able to hold multiple ideas and traits together at the same time but this is really what is needed.
Culture can have a strong impact on us and how feminine and masculine traits play out with girls/women or boys/men with expectations and behaving in a certain way. It really has nothing to do with gender. Having a balanced life is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves. Men can embrace tenderness and women can embrace fierceness. Understanding we have both traits in us. We cannot be in balance if we our suppressing parts of ourselves, we need to embrace all of our parts.
Out of Balance
But why do so many people feel out of balance? Life requires the time to work, to play and to rest. Rest and relaxation are hard for many, which might be why there are so many people who are sleep deprived in this country. I think 1 in 3 individuals don’t even get 7 hours a night sleep which is considered the minimal to promote optimal health and wellbeing.
Then there is relaxation which many people do not have in their schedules at all. Many people struggle with what it means to relax and feel a sense of guilt when they do. Some may look at it as a luxury or maybe something they do 1 week a year when they take a vacation. It is no wonder, many people are out of balance, when they continue to try to pour from an empty cup.
Mind, Body, Spirit
We require so many different things to maintain our balance. But instead we fill so much time with numbing activities such as social media, drugs/alcohol and even over-working, the term workaholic says it all. There is such a badge of honor these days around busyness too. It can certainly become wrapped up in our self-worth. I’m not sure why it has become a status symbol of importance to be overbooked, overworked, and exhausted but it has become this oddness of out-doing each other. Maybe the real issue of busyness is just another way to numb.
Being involved in overly numbing activities is probably the first sign that maybe you are out of balance. It is a direct reaction to being out of balance and attempting to avoid having to deal with it. What are other signs that you are indeed out of balance? When we start experiencing chronic stress it can come out in feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, inadequate, sad, frustrated, guilty, hopeless, lonely, angry, or incompetent. If you are noticing any of these feelings, you may be out of balance. There will also be an impact on our health, and our relationships.
Yin and Yang of Compassion
In Kristen Neff’s last book, Fierce Self-Compassion, she talks about the yin and yang of compassion. Maybe that is what is required to maintain our balance. We need to look at the different sides of self-compassion regarding self-care that incorporates both ideas.
The yin of self-compassion will be activities towards ourselves or inward. It is being able to hold yourself with kindness and with love. To be able to comfort, sooth and validate yourself and your needs. It is caring for yourself. It is eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercising. Caring for your needs.
The yang side of self-compassion would be more outward and fiercer. It is a more outward force and action. It is protecting yourself from harm, providing what you need and motivating yourself to make any needed changes. What would this look like in turns of self-compassion behaviors? Setting boundaries for yourself, speaking out on what you need and speaking your truth. It is saying no when you need to. It is changing a situation that is harmful to yourself.
We also use these yin-yang energies in compassion with both comforting and protecting those we love. According to Kristen Neff, “Fierce self-compassion must always be balanced with tender compassion, however, so that it doesn’t itself become harmful and destructive.” It is about balancing these 2 energies when caring for yourself and others.
What We Need
To be in balance and in harmony we need to have both Yin-Yang. Our bodies will always attempt to maintain homeostasis. We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us and not make choices which put our system out of balance. We have a wake/sleep cycle that when in homeostasis will tell us when to sleep and when to be awake. When we listen to our bodies, we can find what we need. This is true regarding when to eat and what we eat. When we are in homeostasis it will support our health, growth and keep us in balance.
We have become so disconnected from our bodies that we do not rest when we need to, we do not sleep when we need to, we certainly do not eat when we need to. Maybe it is more about learning to trust our body as well as to listen to it. So often we spend so much time overriding what our body is telling us. We need to become partners with our bodies again and not at war with our bodies.
We can learn to trust ourselves again through meditation, somatic exercises, and mind/body-based exercises such as yoga, tai chi, qigong and mindful walking. If you have experienced a lot of traumas in your life this may be something you will need to do with a trained therapist.
The Big Picture
Accepting this idea of duality and these energies around us can be the place to start. Embracing all sides of who we are and reconnecting to ourselves and nature. I think we are influenced by and influence our environment. Humans on whole have created a lot of imbalances which makes us even more disconnected from ourselves and our world. We do need to start with ourselves before we can hope to influence our environment, our inner circle, and the world in a positive way.
Where to Start
It can be hard to know where to begin at times. I’m going to go back to what is your body telling you. I think for a lot of people sleep might be a good place to start. How about asking yourself? Take away all the expectations of others (family, culture) and beliefs you have put upon yourself. How do I feel and what do I need? Is it rest, play, or sleep I need? I’m going to guess it is not work since most people probably work too much.
Go back to what you value. When you feel you are living in your values and in harmony with yourself, what does that look like? Maybe you start with a small change. Can you shift an hour a day? Or do you feel you can only change an hour a week? Can you change 10 minutes a day to start and do something that moves you closer to a place of balance? You could meditate 10 minute a day, do 10 minutes of yoga, walk or sit outside in nature for 10 minutes or maybe play for 10 minutes.
As we find our solid ground and our balance, we can move that outward creating more balance for our family, workspace, community, and the world. If we can embrace the idea about yin-yang and incorporating whatever elements that are missing in our lives it will bring us back in balance. Some may need to add more tenderness and other may need more fierceness. If you are spending all your time with trying to help others and the world, you will feel depleted. We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us. It is important to do for others but not at the expense of caring for yourself. It will impact your health and overall well-being.
We all need to take some responsibility about keeping ourselves in balance. We must be in balance first, then help to bring our world in balance. There is a lot I don’t understand, and I recognize I’m always learning. But we do need to get in touch with our inner balance and trusting ourselves above the outside influences that put us out of balance. Then we move to the outer world and using that same energy to help put world into balance. There are a lot of things that needs fixing in our world.
And I will end this by a quote from Kristen Neff,
“It is challenging to hold loving, connected presence together with fierce, empowered truth because their energies feel so different, but we need to do so if we are going to effectively stand up to patriarchy, racism, and the people in power who are destroying our planet.” 1
1 Why Women Need Fierce Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff, October 17, 2018, Greater Good Magazine
Photo by J.C. Gellidon
Original Post March 02, 2022 on Karen Gentilman’s website Illumination Counseling Service.
Karen Gentilman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) practicing in the State of Idaho, working for 30 years with many different medical conditions both acute and chronic conditions, the last 20 years in neurological rehabilitation including brain injury, strokes and spinal cord injuries. She takes a trauma-informed, integrated and holistic approach with utilizing multiple modalities which is individually based while striving to provide compassionate therapeutic environment. Call (208) 266-4642 or email KarenGentilman@IlluminationCounselingService.com to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation. Visit Karen Gentilman’s profile page.