Finding Balance

Posted in health and fitness on March 28, 2013

Yoga instructor Erika Shapiro talks about the importance of finding balance in our lives and offers a few tips to help ease the pressure.

We live in times when we tend to be constantly wired. Work generally demands a lot from us and we are forever on duty with smartphones and technology.  We try to conciliate and balance other aspects of our lives such as families, friends, and hobbies.  Ultimately, this leaves very little time for ourselves.

Erika Shapiro

This means that our nervous system is constantly on alert. Ideally, we would like our nervous system to be balanced, with on one side the parasympathetic system (our calming response) and on the other our sympathetic system (our fight and flight response). We need both to function and to be able to intervene when needed. If there is a real threat to our safety, it is important that our sympathetic nervous system is able to kick in, creating adrenaline. When, we have been in overdrive, it is important that our parasympathetic system responds, bringing us back to balance. However, in modern life, our sympathetic system is often overactive, leaving us depleted and searching for balance.

We can also think of this balance as the yin and yang of the daoist system. The two are in constant flux with each other, like a pendulum.

Below I offer a few little self-care tips that can help us achieve more balance in our busy and pressurized lives:

  • Take time out from external stimulus. Switch off the phone and make yourself unavailable for 10-15 minutes on a regular basis (2-3 time per week to start with). Find a comfortable seating position (a chair or a sofa is fine), making sure that your spine is straight and upright, and that you are sitting on your sitting bones.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Thoughts will come to your mind: just watch them come and watch them go, bringing your attention back to the breath when you drift. Imagine that you are watching your mind activity from a camera, with a lens and that you are zooming out, watching from a distance.  Stay with the breath;
  • Set time aside for something deeply nurturing, if you are feeling depleted. Try and resist the temptation to unwind with a glass of wine or in front of the TV (or both!) once in a while and choose something that feeds you in a more holistic way. Book a massage, surround yourself with art or music, go for a walk in nature, book a meditation, yoga class or do something creative (drawing, painting, sculpture….). This will help you reconnect with your deeper sense of self. It is important that we learn to practice kindness and compassion not only with others but also to ourselves;
  • Have an early night. The body needs to rest and restore. We often confuse adrenaline for energy and are unaware of our fatigue. If you have trouble sleeping, try breathing deeply, lengthening your exhale to calm your nervous system;
  • If your diet has been erratic, make the time to prepare a homemade meal with lots of organic vegetables. Our modern diets tend to be rich in acidic content. Vegetables are mostly alkaline and help us rebalance our PH levels. There is something deeply soothing and nurturing in chopping and preparing lots of multicolored vegetables. Make a nice soup, salad or just some oven-roasted vegetables.  No need to be a chef!;
  • Breathe deeply! Our breath tends to be constricted, especially when we are in overdrive. Learn a few basic breathing techniques that you can practice when necessary. They can be deployed at any time; before an important meeting, to help you get through a deadline, or to just help you reconnect.  A recommended book is “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi.

Erika Shapiro

By practicing deeper awareness and becoming more attuned to our rhythms and needs, we can lead healthier and more balanced lives. Yoga helps us develop this internal awareness and inner insight. It is not just limited to what we practice on our mat; the awareness we carry with us off the mat is just as important. It is easy to confuse adrenaline for energy and deplete ourselves even further, increasing our stress levels. By getting to know ourselves better we will know which is which and when it is necessary to intervene and practice a bit of self-care.  This will lead to better balance and deeper harmony in our lives.

You can book a  yoga lesson with Erika here.

Erika truly grateful to those who have helped her find deeper balance in her life: Linda D’Antal, Alex Filmer-Loch, Joanne Avison, Deborah Grant, Bo Forbes to name a few.