Category Archives: balance

What I Learned Watching Ants

Today, during my fitness session the coaching assistant said to me, “You’re really stressed. Your body is tensing in random places, while you’re trying to isolate other areas. I think you need to figure out how to get everything to just… be.” Followed repeatedly by: “Relax, relax, relax,” as she jiggled my thigh muscles.

She isn’t wrong. There are, of course, many reasons why this is true, not the least of which is the significant gait change I had over the last 3-4 years from a hiking injury (more on that another time, but did you know how INCREDIBLY impactful something as small as a gait change can be on the rest of your body? I do now! But I digress…)

Where was I? Oh yes, she isn’t wrong. I carry stress throughout my physical body, and my major muscles (quads, especially) work to compensate for everybody else. They’re the superheroes of my muscular system, always stepping in to save the day – which also means that they rarely allow any other muscle groups to get in on the action anymore. At least not properly. Compensating muscles are the worst enablers of the human body. 

So, here I am with significantly weak muscle systems and overly built-up other muscles, and working to bridge the gap in between. As it turns out, it’s not easy. Just trying to get my foot muscles to do basic moves on their own proved to be an exercise in simultaneous multiple-firing synapses in my brain, causing chaos and confusion. It was weird!

I have to give it time. And, perhaps more importantly, I have to give my system some downtime. I’m not the best at that. I use Yoga Nidra meditations – especially at night – when I need some external help. They work well, but it’s not the same as figuring out how to allow my body to take space and time to rebalance on its own. Admittedly, I’ve figured it out for my spirit and my brain (for the most part), but the physical stumps me. I’ve always just “pushed through” when I needed to, and laid back when I didn’t. Not very balanced. Also leads to a lot of injury. Unfortunately.

Then today, when I got home from my appointment, the skies had cleared, there was a gentle breeze, and the temps had dropped to just around 70º – in other words, it was perfect. My kind of weather. So, I took my water, went outside with the dogs, and sat in the lounge chair for a bit. As I was sitting there, I noticed the ants on the patio going about their business. One, in particular was carrying something two times bigger than itself, and I watched as it maneuvered around obstacles and climbed over others. It was impressive.

My body started to relax and quiet. I began to notice other things, like the iridescence of a fly that came to land nearby.

Then I saw the other ants moving around the patio floor, and they were all different sizes. I learned about ants in school and knew that they each had different roles in the colony, and that their size would relate to that, but it was different to see it in action. Eventually, I decided to just lie down and watch the ants. For about half an hour. Thirty minutes of doing nothing but watching ants go about their day.

Perhaps some would see this as wasteful, or lazy, but it was one of the more self-healing things I have done in a while. My heart rate slowed, my breathing grew deeper, and the best part: my muscles relaxed. All of them. I didn’t have to do anything, or think about anything to get them to relax, they simply did. It’s their natural state. 

Now, as I’m typing this only thirty minutes later, I can feel the sense of calm that I acquired outside wash over me. It’s quite profound, actually. It’s a physical peace that is starting to come close to the inner peace I have already cultivated.

Nature is one of the greatest gifts we have. I’ve taught almost all my clients to use nature to restore their inner nature, and it works. Today, I got to listen to my own advice and use it to restore my outward – or physical – nature, and it’s wonderful. 

I’ll definitely be watching ants again. Along with the birds, bees, butterflies, and any other small creatures that allow me to witness their comings and goings. Of course, the ants are wonderful because they’re so small and you can get lost in their world in only a few inches of space. I think that helps, actually.

The symbolism of the ants and their hierarchy isn’t lost on me either. Each member has their job to do, and if just one ant starts taking over someone else’s job, the system will fall apart. My compensating muscles need to re-learn their roles (and stick to them, like these industrious ants tending to the colony’s front door), while my weaker muscles need to remember how great they are at what they do. All in good time…

Ants moving grass

Rest and Relaxation

I bought a hammock!

It’s obvious that rest and relaxation are important to our wellbeing. But there is a big difference between “rest” and “relaxation” – something I’ve only just recently understood myself.

Relaxation is a state of resting,  but it’s not the same as rest. Relaxation is the ability to slow down and enjoy something leisurely, perhaps by read a book, or doing some coloring. It may even be sitting on a park bench listening to birds chirping overhead. Relaxation is a really important component to daily life, and it involves quieting the mind and body to give it room to breathe.

Rest is different.

As I’ve only recently discovered, rest is a state of pure nothingness. It’s a chance for the body, mind and spirit to completely let go and restore… RESTore.

In this day and age of electronics and technology, media and the glorification of being busy – we rarely rest. Even when we’re sleeping we rarely rest fully. It used to be that sleep was a guaranteed respite – or rest – from the day. Ideally, 1/3 of your day would be spent resting (sleeping), thereby allowing your body to actually restore. This lets your cells do their job of regenerating and replicating, as well as removing toxins from the body. Rest is integral to health.

But most of us don’t rest. I typically don’t rest, actually. I thought I was, but I realized I wasn’t when I recently experienced a moment of deep rest (or the nothingness I mentioned), and then I thought: “Oh! THIS is what rest is!” I knew it, because after 10 minutes of that deep state, I returned feeling refreshed and restored, more balanced, and more grounded in both my body and soul. It was then that I realized that I know how to relax well, but I have no clue how to rest.

Stumbling up on rest was a gift… and an invitation. I now feel invited to learn how to rest. To allow my body, mind, and soul to let go of everything and dive deep into the state of nothingness. For me, rest isn’t about meditation (that’s actually play time, as I love going deep and exploring the other side of the veil; it’s my natural state). For me rest is about being 100% present in the here and now (aka: in my body), and inviting my mind and soul to do nothing while my body rests. For me, rest requires a different approach than relaxation; it requires a void. And when I can achieve it – it’s oh-so-good!

So, as I move forward with my exploration of deep rest, I’m looking at how I can support myself to go into the void. Of course, some of these tools will overlap with relaxation, but I think just knowing the difference will assist me in creating the different experiences. To that end, I bought a hammock! 🙂

I’m not a very outdoorsy person, but I’ve always wanted a hammock. A simple hammock you can take with you anywhere and string up in a tree. Recently, I saw one I loved (from the partnership between Target and Hunter), and had hoped to get it. Alas, it sold out in less than an hour. But, as we know, the Universe conspired to help us when our path is aligned. So, it got me my hammock.

On a random excursion to Target today for some staple items, I passed by the section with the Hunter merchandise, and lo and behold! … there was one hammock! In the color I wanted! It must have been a return. And now, well, now it’s hanging between two trees in my backyard, and yes, I’ve already tested it out. (As has my dog!) And it’s perfect!

There will be many hours of relaxation in my blue-striped swing, and hopefully, just maybe, some wonderful moments of rest, too.

Acceptance Made Easy(er)

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about “acceptance” and how important it is for living a balanced and happy life. And I agree. Acceptance is one of the cornerstones of living well.

Where I have a teensy-weensy problem, however, is the connotation that has developed around the idea of acceptance.

To address this, let’s first look at what acceptance is not.

Acceptance is not:

  • Settling
  • Surrender
  • Giving up
  • A consolation prize
  • Relinquishing responsibility

Nor is it blind faith and/or an abandonment of free will. Rather, acceptance is a calm embrace of what is. It’s a knowing.

Acceptance is peace through wisdom.

Acceptance doesn’t require abandonment of understanding and/or exploration. Rather, it requires questioning. Questioning that moves us through to acceptance from a place of strength, courage, and presence.

Acceptance asks us to question everything so that we arrive at the knowing underneath, the knowing that was always there. There’s a quiet grace in true acceptance that transcends chaos and fear.

In other words, if it feels like settling or giving up, it’s not acceptance. Acceptance is an embrace, not a letting go.

Feeling Stressed?

Stress can be like wind on the surface of water: temporary, changing, and totally outside of our control.

We often feel stressed and anxious because of circumstances in our life that we cannot control or influence. (Usually, actually, we think we can, which contributes to the level of stress we experience.)

Therefore, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with. In my experience, there are two types:

  • surface stress
  • deep stress

This week, I’m looking at surface level stress, because it’s the one we can deal with most readily, since it’s predominantly external. For that metaphor, let’s liken stress to wind blowing across the surface of a lake, causing ripples. The water deep underneath might be calm and clear, but the surface looks like a hot mess.

It’s this stress that’s truly temporary. Additionally, 9 times out of 10, the key to alleviating this stress is to remember that the vast majority of the water (what’s underneath) is calm and unaffected by the wind.

The wind can be anything from a child’s or boss’ tantrum, to a bad hair day, or traffic, or not having enough milk for your coffee in the morning, or even…

…family, friends, colleagues and social media. Basically, it can be anything external to you.

Like the wind, it’s outside of your control and often has nothing to do with you personally. The key to restoring balance is to understand and remember these three things:

  • the surface is not the story
  • the wind is temporary
  • the calm beneath is the truth

If you can keep these simple ideas in mind, it will help you navigate any stressful (windy) situation with more grace and ease. There’s comfort in knowing that, at your core, everything is okay. In fact, I would argue it’s the best way to live. 🙂