The concept of balance is an ancient one that is a part of most cultures, philosophies and healing traditions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the balance between the Yen and the Yang or the Five Elements that represent the different organ systems in our body exemplifies this concept. Ayurveda traditions discuss balancing of the chakras as the points of energy in our body that require modification to harmonize and maintain health. Even Hippocratic medicine had a concept of the four bodily humors and balancing these as the source of health with an imbalance leading to disease.
Modern physiology has discovered the concept of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the tendency toward equilibrium between internal and external environments and interdependent elements and processes throughout our bodies. Our bodies are constantly breaking down certain elements and rebuilding others, whether it is muscle or dead tissue, these processes occur simultaneously at the microscopic to tissue to organ to total body system levels.
Moving beyond a limited understanding of our bodies as mechanical structures and machines, we must seek homeostasis in all aspects of life, the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Becoming mindful of these dimensions of life is a key part of achieving health and happiness. Mindfulness means we value and pay close attention to our needs on all levels.
Balance or equilibrium is not a static state. It is not a destination that we can find and then move on. It is a constant dynamic state that ebbs and flows like the waves of the ocean.
Understanding balance as a constantly moving and changing process is the key to achieving happiness. When we recognize this, we are not trying to create the perfect event or day. We instead find the equilibrium and joy in the process of moving with two steps forward and one step back.
Spiritual and physiological homeostasis connect together when we recognize these as parallel processes in life. Just as our bodies are physically building and breaking down elements, we too are investing in certain relationships and letting go of others.
Adding time to wellness activities like meditation or yoga and shifting away from unhealthy habits liking smoking or eating fast food. This is the balance and this is something we can all understand as a continuous work in progress.
Here are some key ways to achieve balance and happiness along the way:
1) Recognize that Rome wasn’t built in a day, balance takes time and requires continuous attention so don’t beat yourself up if you fall short of your goals, just keep going, all your efforts count as long as you keep trying and don’t give up.
2) Start low and go up slow. If you aren’t exercising regularly don’t try to run a marathon, start with walking then move up to more activity either biking or jogging on a treadmill. Starting low and going up slow is the key to finding balance and success. Little bits of progress add up and going too fast too quickly can lead to injuries and setbacks that keep you from achieving your goals.
3) Remember that no one is perfect but everyone can strive to be the best version of themselves, so try to learn more about what that means to you by practicing mindfulness. Be mindful of all that you are and of the process. If you fall short one day then make up for it tomorrow, that’s how life works, it’s about the journey not just the destination.
Dr. Shad (Farshad Fani Marvasti, MD, MPH) is a Stanford-trained medical doctor, associate professor in academic medicine, speaker, and author with expertise in nutrition and culinary medicine, wellness, public health and prevention.
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