Stretching in the Winter; Safe Ways to Stretch When It’s Cold Outside

One of the reasons people take up yoga is to get more flexibility. Men are especially known as being less flexible on the mats than their female counterparts. During the summer months when it’s warm outside it’s easier to get a goodcartoonbigguyyoga stretch, especially in the beginning of a class. It typically doesn’t take much to get the muscles loosened up and ready to go.

 

But during the cold winter months, it can feel like an hour or more of warm up is needed just to get the muscles loosened up to take a class. And for those that are naturally less flexible, it can be very frustrating and potentially injurious. What can be done during this time of stress, super tension and cold? Is all hope of flexibility lost? Fear not, for there is still hope.

 

The key to getting a good stretch while minimizing the risk of injury is a good warm up sequence. Waking the muscles up, getting the blood flowing and getting your whole body warm are the three tips to getting the most out of stretching in the cold months. First a little on why it works, then a handy little set you can use to get yourself fired up inside and ready to go.

 

Why it works

During the warm months (weeks if you live in New York), the ambient heat from nature helps the body to relax. The body, muscles and connective tissues are in a pretty constant state of being warm, and as a result are more relaxed. This state of relaxation is what allows the muscles to stretch and lengthen when stretching exercises are done.

 

Now think to the winter months. It’s cold and the wind is slicing through every layer of clothing you have on. Most

Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of shootingafly.blogspot.com.

people actively pull in towards their center during this time. This is a protective reflex buried in our bodies. What it also does is put the muscles into a constant state of tension. While tensed in this fashion, the muscles are far less likely to stretch safely as they are actively shrinking and pulling in. And that’s why injuries such as pulled muscles occur. But, take those same tense, cold muscles and warm them up first, and you create a safe state for the muscles to stretch.

 

How to warm up your muscles safely

  1. Take a few minutes to acclimate to the warmer workout environment (assuming it is warmer)
  2. Start *slow* and then build the intensity of the warm ups
  3. Stay focused on the fact that these are indeed warm ups and while some of the exercises contain a little cardio, this is not the cardio portion of your work out
  4. Be honest with where you are in getting warm; some days you may need a little more time to warm up adequately, treat yourself to that time
  5. The more body parts you warm up, the safer your work out becomes; avoid warming up just the legs or just the back in favor of time on other parts of your work out

 

To help get you warmed up, I’ve drawn up a list of exercises that will get the whole body warm and the blood pumping.

 

Warm up set

  1. Body tapping – tap your body, shoulders to palms (palms up) and back (palms down). Tap the around the body and finally tap down and back up the legs. This should leave you with a tingling sensation telling you that your blood is flowing now.
  2. Hand squeezes – make a fist as tight as possible and open as wide as possible, repeat 30 or so times
  3. Elbow and shoulder rolls – rotating the joints to open them up both physically and energetically
  4. Hip, ankle and knee rotations – same idea as the shoulders and elbows
  5. Squats – slow motion and holding
  6. Plank/push-ups – slow, steady push-ups with holding planks in between
  7. Jumping jacks – any variation
  8. Coordination drills (hand/knee and hand/foot) such as ladders or mountain climbers

Yoga (2 of 6)

A note to avoid lateral foot work drills before you are warmed up. Those put a lot of pressure on the connective tissue and muscles of the joints. If performed cold you run a greater chance of getting injured.

 

I know that I’m warmed up enough when I have little beads of sweat just starting to form on my forehead. Another good sign is when I check in with my shoulders and quads. When I feel those loosen and relax, I know I’m ready to start my work out safely.

 

This kind of a deliberate warm up isn’t always an option. The top question I get is how to get into a class safely when

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Kennguru (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

this type of intentional warm up isn’t possible. The short answer is to manage the intensity of your work out. If you’ve not had the time to warm up before a class, cut the intensity of the work out down until you are warmed up. You can still do the exercises, but instead of going full bore, you can lessen your effort or limit your range of motion until you feel you are warmed up and ready to go.

 

In the end, it’s about listening to your body. It will tell you when you are and aren’t ready for something. Everyone is different and every day is different. Some days you may need to just think about getting to your work out and you are set to go, no more warm up needed. Other days maybe the warm up is all you ever get through. There’s nothing wrong with either of those extremes or anything in between. Push your limits, challenge yourself, but do it safely so you are able to stay healthy and don’t have to recover from injuries.

10 Minutes To Get The Body and Mind Moving

Job, family, kid’s activities, dinner, home projects, pets and a million other things compete for our time every day. With all that noise and competition it’s tough to carve out time to take care of ourselves. Sleep deprivation is one option, and I’ve certainly used it in the past. But there are still days where even that isn’t an option.

 

Instead of stressing over missing a day (and for me, the grumpiness that fills my day), I have a quick (and in my opinion fun) way to get a little stretch and strengthen put back into the day. And it’s only 9 moves and 10 minutes. Full disclosure, this is not a super cardio, super stretch, ab ripping or other intensive set. It’s meant as a way to get the body (and energy) moving on days where there just isn’t time for anything else.

 

Empty Coat Sleeves (2 minutes):

Feet shoulder width apart, let the arms hang down at your sides like empty coat sleeves (hence the name). Start by slowly twisting side to side letting the arms flop against the body. Slowly increase the tempo and as you turn, let the opposite side heel come up. Play with the tempo and the slowly add breath to the movement. Inhale as you come to center, exhale as you twist. Start to slow the swings and let the arms come to rest.

 

Hip Circles (5 each leg each direction):

Root one leg into the ground, shift your weight to that leg, engage the abs in and up then inhale to float the opposite leg up, bent at the knee. Keeping the planted leg engaged, draw the largest circle you can with the bent knee. Reverse the circles. Slowly lower the leg, shift your weight to the second leg, and repeat on the second side.

 

Leg Balances – each leg about 15-20 seconds (2-3 sets):

Start as above, feet hip distance. Plant one leg, thigh muscles gripping the bone, engage the abs in and up and inhale to slowly float the other leg up, bent at the knee and hold while continuing to breath. Float the leg down, shift the weight to the other leg, and repeat on the second side.

 

Wall Push, each leg forward (3 sets, 10-15 seconds each):

Stand with palms pressed against the wall. Step one leg back a comfortable distance. Front knee is stacked over the front ankle, the rear leg is long and strongly planted into the ground. Engage the abs in and up, inhale and slowly exhale as you press into the wall (10-15 second) and release. Repeat two more times. Switch feet.

 

Low/High lunges – just a good stretch:

Starting with feet planted, hip width apart, step far back with one leg. Keep the front knee stacked directly over the front ankle. Place your hands either on the floor or a block for balance. Keep the hips square and lengthen though the spine. Keep your rear leg straight and slowly pivot up at the hip, lengthening the tailbone down. This is a great stretch for the hip flexors and thighs. Stay here for a minute or so and enjoy the stretch. Switch sides before moving on.

 

Standing Wide Angle Forward Fold – a good stretch and release the head to relax:

Start with the feet a comfortably wide distance apart, legs straight but the knees aren’t locked. Engage the abs in and up, lengthen through the spine and fold slowly from the hips. Only after folding as far as you can, release the hands to the ground (or blocks) and let your body fold down and release your head and let it just hang loose. Relax here for several breaths and enjoy the mini-inversion. To come out, place hands on ground or blocks and use your arms to push up to a flat back, bend the knees slightly and hinge up to standing. Walk the feet together.

 

Seated Forward Fold (legs together) for good stretch; keep back long:

Come to a comfortable seated position with the legs straight out in front. Lengthen through the spine and the heels. Engage the abs in and up and begin to hinge forward at the hips. Hold here for a few breaths. You can then release and fold forward, supported by your hands. Hold here and breathe. Engage the abs, press the palms into the ground to straighten your spine. Hinge up from the hips to finish the release.

 

Seated Twist (each side):

Leave one leg extended and lengthen up through the spine. Bend the other leg at the knee and place the foot to the outside of the extended leg. Keep the spine lengthened and slowly twist towards the lengthened leg. Breathe a few times and slowly release. Switch legs and repeat on the second side.

 

Savasana, focus on belly breathing:

Lie down on the floor on your back. Feet slightly more than hip width apart and let the feet fall open. Hands about 45 degrees from the body, palms up. Release and relax every part of your body. This may take a minute or two, but don’t rush. When you’re ready, focus on the lower belly. As you inhale, let just the lower belly blow up like a balloon filing with air. As you exhale, let the belly sink down towards your spine; repeat. Take as long as you want here, but to keep it short, about 10 breaths or so will do. To come out, turn slowly to the left, pause, then push up to a seated position. Pause again before standing up and moving on with your day.

 

And now you’re done. Short, sweet and just enough to get your body, energy and mind moving and staying sharp for as long as you need. As I said earlier, this isn’t a cardio blast by any means, but it will get you moving.

 

Once you are comfortable with the series, I encourage you to play with different types of breathing to either bring up or level out your energy and mind.

Escaping Mental Quicksand

Shane Falco: You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

 

This is mental quicksand. It sneaks up on us. One little negative thought because one little thing goes wrong or just doesn’t meet our expectations. And that one little negative thought draws our attention. Then all we can do, all we can notice are the negative things. And down into the quicksand we go.Drowning hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can the quicksand be escaped, or better still, avoided? These are questions everyone asks at some point, from top athletes and performers to anyone who is just having one of those days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out how to completely avoid the quicksand. I still step right in the middle of it some days. What I have done is work to recognize when I put my foot in, when that sinking feeling starts, and find constructive ways to dig myself out before I start feeling overwhelmed and stuck.Office chaos

 

First, some of the signs that tell me I’m heading in that direction:

  • My jaw clenches.
  • My shoulders start drifting up towards my ears.
  • My thinking is starts getting muddled and fuzzy.
  • I hear myself saying things I really didn’t want or mean to say.
  • The normally kind universe is kicking me in the gut, repeatedly.

 

Now that you have some ideas on how to spot the slide down the quicksand trap, the question becomes how to dig out. Depending on how deep you get before starting, it could be simple and relatively easy. But there are times when you are in pretty much over your head before you realize what’s going on, and that takes more effort.

 

Where ever you might find yourself, when you do realize where you’re headed, here are some of my go to tips for digging myself out.

  • Stop and breathe.

    Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

    Image courtesy of { lillith }.

  • If possible, get up and move, be active, go for a workout.
  • If you can’t get a workout in, take a smaller break in Savasana.
  • If you can’t do that either, take a break to go get a cup of tea (or beverage of choice).
  • Let go of everything that has happened up to that point in your day. It doesn’t matter and holding onto it is like grabbing an anchor, you’ll just sink faster.

 

 

 

 

That is a quick list for when I haven’t started sinking too deep yet. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list, just a few idea that work for me. If I do find myself already pretty deep in the mental quicksand, these are my favorite ways to dig out, or at least stop the sinking.

  • Stop and breathe (this works for pretty much any situation).

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

  • Step away, completely away. It’s often difficult to do because of the perceived pressure that can be felt.
  • Put yourself in a mental bubble to shut out all the unnecessary noise around you.
  • Focus on one and only one thing to accomplish. Once that is complete, move on to another one. Keep knocking out the tasks, one at a time, until you feel back on track.
  • Be nice to yourself. Negative thoughts attract more negativity. Positive thoughts attract more positive energy. Give yourself a little encouragement and see how much it can help.

 

The key for me has become less about digging out, but more about figuring out I’m on my way into the quicksand. It is so much easier to make little adjustments to avoid getting sucked in than it is to work to climb back out.

 

This is one of those things that just takes practice. Learning to really tune in to what you are feeling as you feel it is something that as adults we have almost forgotten. Once you do, the warning signs go from being buried in the noise to blaring and nearly impossible to miss. Along the way, just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the only one who is.

 

 

 

The Beauty of Death – Savasana

A lot has been written about Savasana and its importance to a yoga practice. The time to integrate, absorb and make space for the work done during a practice is crucial to physical/emotional/spiritual growth. That time of rest allows the body and mind to reset and adjust to or find new

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

changes.

 

This integration time is key to yoga. But does it have to be unique to yoga? Think of other activities, sports, forms of exercise that are popular such as Pilates, running, weight lifting, etc. They tend to lack this crucial time at the end.

 

Crucial there is a strong word, but appropriate I believe. I think about the conversations that happen after a long run. Everyone is gathered around their cars saying good bye and there is a number of runners who want to nap because the run was tough. They are tired and sore and their bodies just want to rest.

 

Typically they don’t nap. They rush back to their lives and families and jump right in. As a result, the next day can be physically and mentally tough. Even later that day there is a feeling of being drained and lethargic. Feeling this way myself, I decided to try one of my wholly unscientific experiments.

 

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

I did a hard run. Felt tired and knew that I would feel that run the next day and that if left to my normal course of action I would feel drained later. I went home, pulled out my mat and put myself into savasana.

 

I ran for 90 minutes, so I gave myself 15 minutes to incorporate. To be clear, this wasn’t a nap. I was awake and aware and guided myself through savasana just like I would after a yoga class. This includes a little stretch and settle, attention to breath and walking myself through the entire release and allow process.

 

When my time was up, I slowly moved out of savasana and stepped back into the flow of my day. That afternoon, I felt great. Not just great, amazing. That drained, sluggish feeling never showed up. I was amazed and thrilled.

 

Being aware that it just could have been my energy for the day, I repeated this process, not just for running, but for any physically demanding exercise I engaged in. I found a place where I could put myself into savasana quickly after the workout. I kept the same focus on breath, release and allow each time. And each time the typical mental or physical fatigue that would normally follow, never showed up.

 

Intrigued, I wanted to see if the reverse were also true. I took a few yoga classes and (after speaking with the teacher ahead of time to explain) I skipped savasana. Incredibly (but not unexpectedly) I didn’t feel quite as good later that day.

yogaleavepose

I’ve heard many times in many classes that yoga’s real work begins when you leave the mat and that the greatest challenge is to carry what we learn in yoga into real life. I’m not sure it was meant quite this literally, but I appreciate the results of carrying savasana into my other pursuits.

 

I’ve had such great experiences with this that I build time into the end of most of my workouts to find a quiet spot have a little integration time. I’ve found that physically it helps my post workout recovery by minimizing the physical impact of even the most challenging workouts.

 

Emotionally, yoga isn’t the only place where “stuff” can come up. Any intense workout can stir the emotional pot. Without this time, there is a great possibility that we can miss the opportunities to deal with what comes up in these other forms of exercise.

 

And finally mentally. Savasana is transition time. Just as there is typically a centering before yoga to move from the daily life to the mat, savasana is the transition back to life off the mat. Other forms of exercise have warm ups, or we develop our own routines to get our heads focused on the work out. I never really took the time to build a transition routine back. Until I found savasana.

 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out. Take your next work out or two or three and build in a little savasana time after the work out. See if you find a difference. It’s been said everything is yoga. Yoga ends in savasana, so why can’t a good run?

The Experience of Options

This topic has come up many times recently, and I wanted to share. Options, and no, not stock options (although those are nice too), frame how comfortable we are in a situation. My wife recently posted about how she gets nervous when I drive, even knowing I would never do anything to endanger her or our daughter. And when she drives, she often feels frustrated and finds herself stuck behind slow or erratic drivers.scaredchickenclipart

 

In working through an advanced curriculum in her own coaching career, she determined that the difference was options. When I drive, I see options everywhere. Some options are better than others and based on where I am and where I want to be, I choose the best option available. When she drives, she doesn’t see as many options on the road as I do. So when she isn’t driving, the mismatch of perceived options makes my driving seem more daring from her perspective.

 

 

 

Applying this to a larger scope, take a moment and think about a time where you felt trapped or pressured in a decision. Keep thinking about that time and remember the number of options or choices you felt you had at the time. Now think of a time where you felt completely at ease in making a decision. And think of the number of choices you felt you had then. Odds are the more pressure you felt, the fewer options you felt you had, and vice versus. That has certainly been my experience.

 

The question becomes how to change what we perceive in order to be able to see more options. I have a few techniques that work for me.

 

Breathe – My go to method for dealing with almost anything. Take a moment (or more), step away from the situation and just breathe. Breathing settles the mind and the emotions and allows for decisions and reactions to be made from a place of choice and not reflex.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Meditate – For the really big ones where I have time, I look at meditation as breathing on steroids. Same benefits of adding space and allow for shifts in reaction to become consciously chosen and not a habitual reflex.noncompete

 

 

 

 

 
Gut check – There has been a lot of buzz about the importance of our digestive system in overall health. I’m a big proponent of listening to my gut (instincts would be a good substitute here). Sometimes I will picture the scenario I’m in and choose one of my options. Then I wait for that tell-tale tightening that signals a less favorable decision. If I get a calm stomach, I’m probably on the right track.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Make a list – Make a list of options you see. Make a second list of what the outcome you’d most like to see. Set the two side by side. Are there any options that get you to any of the acceptable results? If yes, you have a starting place for working towards your ideal resolution. If not, take a step and, breathe and think a little more. If all else fails, move on to the next one.

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

Some rights reserved by moonhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Ask for help – I don’t know everything. Sometimes the options I see are limited by the fact that I don’t know enough about the topic. In those cases, I find a friend or mentor who knows more, and I ask for help. Not that they will make the decision for me, but they will be able to help me see more options so I can make choices that get me to or at least closer to my ideal outcome.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

Image courtesy of pyrat_wesly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Listen – I put this one in because it’s probably the most important tool. It is an essential component for all of the above to be successful. If you don’t listen to what you feel, to suggestions, to the other options that arise, you won’t be able to expand your available options and will likely remain stuck, see limited choices and feel frustrated and pressure.

Image courtesy of www.naturerocks.org.

Image courtesy of http://www.naturerocks.org.

 

Each of these can be used alone, or in groups (except for listen, which I advocate using in all of them). The thread that weaves all of them together is space. Making space for yourself to clear your mind, bring your full attention to your choices and see if you are able to lift some of the pressure, get creative and see the other options that might be available. Because the more options you see, the less pressure you’ll likely feel and the happier you’ll be with your choices.

Adding Breath

Breathing. Something we do automatically; without thinking. I’ve discussed different types of breathing and why it’s important in other posts. Today I’ll explore the effects of adding different breathing techniques to yoga (or anything else).

 

Breath is the central focus of many disciplines ranging from yoga to martial arts to various meditative disciplines. The reason for this is the impact that breathing has on, well,manwatchingtv

everything. For example, I can be sitting in a barcalounger and use a calming breath (ujayii, longer exhale than inhale, dirgha, to name a few) and it will settle my body and mind. Sitting in the exact same chair in the exact same position but using a more aggressive breath (kapalabhati, bellows, fire breath, short inhale/exhales, etc.) will result in my heart rate increasing and my mind becomes more alert. The difference is how I breathe.

 

First a little experiment. Sit comfortably, or lie down. Take a moment to connect to how you are breathing now. Notice if it’s fast and shallow or a slower more full breath. Next take inventory of your mind. Are you feeling sluggish and foggy, or is the monkey mind reigning at the moment. Depending on where you fall, go through the exercise below that most closely fits where you are in this moment.

 

 

 

 

 

Monkey mind:

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

To settle a monkey mind (you know the one; it jumps from thought to thought and never sits still, whirling around like crazy), I’ve found this breathing technique to be quite soothing.

 

Place your hands on your belly. As you inhale focus on your lower belly expanding like a balloon. On the exhale, feel the belly sink all the way back to the spine. Start with about a 4 second inhale through the nose and a 5-6 second exhale through the lips. Repeat this cycle until your breathing natural slows and allow it to move to a 5-6 second inhale/exhale pattern. When the breath gets to this point, gently seal the lips and breathe through your nose only. Continue this pattern as long as you like until your mind settles.

 

If your mind still won’t settle, begin to count the thoughts as they fly through your mind and let them go.

 

With time, patience and practice, I’ve found this to be a simple and highly effective method for calming the monkey mind.

 

 

Foggy mind:autoresponse

It’s been a long day, just after lunch and your ability to focus is sort of like looking through coconut oil; you know those days.

 

To refocus the mind and get your day back on track, here is a breathing exercise that I find helpful. Sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your belly. Take deliberate, slightly forceful inhales filling your lungs about 75% of the way and then an equally forceful exhale emptying out about 90% of the air. Repeat this pattern for about 10-12 breaths. Slowly let a normal breathing pattern return and open your eyes. Open your eyes slowly and notice a new sense of alertness in your mind and body. If, during the forceful breathing, dizziness or a headache starts to occur, resume normal breathing immediately.

 

 

Now that you’ve seen first-hand the effects breathing can have on the body and mind, I want to explore how adding different breathing techniques can change the experience of things like yoga, meditation and even just standing.

 

For this post, I’d like to explore standing. That’s it, just standing, no funky twists, bends or contortions, just good old teeth brushing, dish washing standing.

 

To start, stand up. Find a comfortable standing position, weight even on both feet, knees straight but not locked, abs engaged in and up, chest loose, shoulders relaxed and lengthen through the crown of the head. From there, notice (no commentary, no criticism) where you are breathing. Chest, belly, all over. Lungs full of air or only partially. Now notice how you feel mentally. Alert and present or a little fuzzy and disconnected.menyogaclothes

 

Changing nothing else, start breathing using the Foggy Mind method above. Just a few minutes is enough. Now notice how you’re feeling. The same, or different? Hopefully you feel a little more alert and are breathing deeper into the lungs with each breath.

 

Now switch to Monkey Mind as described above. Again, a few minutes are all it takes. Notice the changes in your mind, in your emotions and breathing. Ideally you now feel calm, centered and steady.

 

If this didn’t work for you, I recommend trying it sitting (if comfort was an issue) or just trying it again but perhaps for a longer period of time. Once you do start feeling the differences, breathing (at least for me) becomes this fun, fascinating tool that I can use to augment pretty much anything in my daily life and not just on a yoga or meditation mat.

 

These are two very simple breathing techniques layered with a simple posture. I encourage you to play with other types of breathing and to do it in other “postures” and situations. The effects are often unexpected and spectacular.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Nature Hates a Vacuum

Nature hates a vacuum. This was the very first lesson I remember learning in my physical sciences class as a kid, and that lesson has stuck with me ever since. In fact, I see this lesson being demonstrated over and over again all around me.

 

Whether it is water filling a hole in the ground, blowing up a balloon and letting it go to fly around or the weather, nature always seeks a balance. Water rushes around and levels itself off. High and low pressure systems move across the globe either pushing out existing weather, or pulling it in. Nature just “knows” that seeking equilibrium keeps the world moving smoothly.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

Nature likes balance and we are a product of nature. When we chase after some new fad or some extreme fast/instant change, we can throw ourselves out of balance. And when we are out of balance with ourselves, we are out of balance with nature and everyone around us.

 

Today’s example for this post centers on chasing fads. Whether it’s the next super food, the next ab ripping 5 second work out or how to get the perfect mate, there’s so much being thrown at us in a truncated form that it is easy to be taken out of context. And that is where we run the risk of getting thrown out of balance; when things are taken out of context or with incomplete information. Ironically, this is the norm in today’s information overloaded world.

 

 

 

 

 

Nature seeks balance; even in nature too much of a good thing is bad. Trees convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.  That’s good. More trees produce more oxygen. That also sounds good. But too many trees eventually lead to forestation that is too dense to support healthy trees. This results in weak trees that spend more energy fighting for survival, nutrients and resources than they do converting CO2 to O2.

Image courtesy of Mikenorton; Rainforest canopy at the Forestry

Image courtesy of Mikenorton; Rainforest canopy at the Forestry

 

The same is true with humans. We’re like the forest. For us to prosper and grow, we need to maintain a healthy balance within so that we don’t end up clogging our energy and limiting our own growth. An excessive desire to acquire or achieve something (money, sex, my personal favorite, “enlightenment”) will eventually lead to a path of cutting out opportunities for true growth in favor of the focused, exclusive pursuit material or ego based desires. This can include cutting out our support networks of friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t to say that desires or goals are bad, they certainly aren’t. It’s focusing on them in such a narrowed fashion to the exclusion of everything else that becomes potentially unbalancing. I’m not talking about the type of drive where someone pushes through the naysayers to accomplish something fantastic or a life’s dream. What I am talking about is the chasing of the latest sparkly thing. Kale is a super food. Now every meal I eat has kale in it. Now the super food is coconut oil so every meal must have coconut oil in it and all the kale gets pitched out.

Image courtesy of creoleindc.typepad.com.

Image courtesy of creoleindc.typepad.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, the key to balance (and therefore a bit of harmony) is moderation, acceptance and the occasional splurge. I think of it like this;

 

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

I am standing in the middle of a massive tornado with everything flying around me at break neck speed. If I move toward any of those things flying around me (people, food, pleasure, desires, etc.) I risk getting pulled into the twister where I get tossed and whirled around until it spits me out. Staying centered doesn’t mean staying in one spot. The winds are dynamic and ever changing, as are the forces and desires in our lives. To stay centered sometimes means having to move off center in one direction to avoid getting pulled too far in another. You know, to balance things out.

 

 

 

 

 

Realizing that, and accepting it without judgment, is one of the most difficult lessons I’m learning. This is also where, from my observations/experience, people tend to go awry. Sometimes the seeking of balance and only balance keeps someone rooted where they are, and when the “winds of change” sweep in, they get swept away.

 

The opposite also happens quite often. In trying to always remain centered, there is so much “motion” and adjustment that there is never any time allowed for settling. I tried this approach, and it really didn’t work for me. In fact, that was a period of time where I was most out of balance with myself, those around me and the world at large. I was so busy trying to be all “Zen” and balanced, I missed the whole point of harmony and balance.

 

How you find balance is a whole world of self-discovery, self-observation (compassionately), and a lot of trial and error. For me, the journey hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been very worthwhile. I believe that when in balance with yourself, you can be in balance with others and the universe.

Image courtesy of David Flowers

Image courtesy of David Flowers