Balancing Act

When I originally set out on this journey, towards getting a PhD, I wanted it all-to build my body, my romantic relationship, and my mind. I soon realized, that, to do it all, meant sacrifice. Somethings had to give. My brain, deprived of nutrients, was foggy and ill equipped for the tasks required of learning and participating in academic discussion. I felt heavy and anxious, exhausted, but unable to sleep. I didn’t have a home, I was renting a room and spending most nights at my friend’s house (gratitude), on her couch. My brain forgetful and my mind in a state of unrest, I found myself walking in circles and feeling as though I had to put on this face of success. I. Could. Do. It. All. DAMN IT.

But I couldn’t. Unable to eat, think, or be me. I failed, or so I thought. I compared myself to those around me, on Facebook and Instagram. I wasn’t as smart as those in my classes, as disciplined as those I needed to compete against, or as competent as those I aimed to be. I sank deeper and deeper into who I thought I SHOULD be, and moved further away from who I really AM. The shoulds were always present-creating guilt and dissatisfaction. Misery. I met with my posing coach, who said, “you can do it, but at what cost? Why are you here?” She went on to emphasize the importance of self-care, ordering me to, “go home, eat an avocado, and soak in the tub with bath salts”. She allowed me to be human, to let go. It was that evening that I decided I liked myself a whole lot more than I liked trying to keep up the façade of perfectionism. I decided to give body building a rest. I had nothing to prove. I allowed myself to care only about my own progress and learning and not worry about how much I knew or didn’t know compared to the others. I asked for help.

A funny thing happens when we let go of the comparisons that weigh us down or amp us up; when we bare our souls and allow ourselves to be human and ask for help, or admit to mistakes. It’s simple. We don’t really fail or lose. We learn.

A funny thing happens when we let go of the comparisons that weigh us down or amp us up; when we bare our souls and allow ourselves to be human and ask for help, or admit to mistakes. It’s simple. We don’t really fail or lose. We learn.

We move towards that which serves us and we leave that which does not behind. This process is devastatingly beautiful, a tragedy of living life to the fullest, in pursuit of goals. The choices aren’t easy, but the depth of our knowing cannot be ignored. We leave behind relationships, give up the security and safety net of careers, and  begin to feel the life seep back into our souls. We feel again. The life that was once a dream, is now tangible. Looking back on the doubts and the insecurities, that still bubble up from time to time, we feel accomplishment and reward. We learn that in order to feel alive we have to be vulnerable, be focused, and be relentless in our pursuits.

This act, the act of finding balance in passion, is not an easy feat. Finding center, being clear, and most importantly, being easy on ourselves requires mindfulness. Mindfulness, like any other skill, requires practice. Mindfulness is a way of being. Being mindful means to notice the present moment, and allow yourself to feel without judgment. It is the act of just being. It has been proven to reduce stress, improve relationships, improve focus and attention, and reduce racing thoughts, worry, and anxiety.

What do you have to do?

Here are a few exercises to start with, courtesy of positivepsychology.com:

The Body Scan

Another popular exercise for practitioners of mindfulness is called the Body Scan. It requires very little in the way of props or tools, and it is also easily accessible for most beginners.

Would you like to follow a Body Scan right now? Try this 30 minute guided narrative by expert and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Jon Kabat Zinn:

A typical Body Scan runs through each part of the body, paying special attention to the way each area feels, the scan usually moves as follows:

1. From toes of both feet to
2. The rest of the feet (top, bottom, ankle) then to the
3. Lower legs,
4. Knees,
5. Thighs and
6. Pelvic region- buttocks, tailbone, pelvic bone, genitals. From there moving to
7. The Abdomen, then the
8. Chest,
9. Lower back,
10. Upper back- back ribs & shoulder blades,
11. Hands (fingers, palms, backs, wrists),
12. Arms (lower, elbows, upper),
13. Neck,
14. Face and head (jaw, mouth, nose, cheeks, ears, eyes, forehead, scalp, back & top of head),

Mindful Seeing

For some, the absence of visual stimuli can feel stifling. After all, a healthy imagination does not come naturally to everyone. The activity of Mindful Seeing may be helpful to anyone who identifies with this feeling.

This is a simple exercise, requiring only a window with some kind of a view.

  • Step 1: find a space at a window where there are sights to be seen outside.
  • Step 2: look at everything there is to see.  Avoid labeling and categorizing what you see outside the window; instead of thinking “bird” or “stop sign”, try to notice the colors, the patterns, or the textures.
  • Step 3: pay attention to the movement of the grass or leaves in the breeze, notice the many different shapes present in this small segment of the world you can see.  Try to
    see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights.
  • Step 4: be observant, but not critical.  Be aware, but not fixated.
  • Step 5: if you become distracted, gently pull your mind away from those thoughts and notice a color or shape again to put you back in the right frame of mind.

The Mini-Mindfulness Exercise

Another great exercise to try if you are strapped for time is the mini-mindfulness exercise. In this lesson, there are only three steps:

  • Step 1: step out of  “automatic pilot” to bring awareness to what you doing, thinking, and sensing in this moment.

Try to pause and take a comfortable but dignified posture. Notice the thoughts that come up and acknowledge your feelings, but let them pass. Attune yourself to who you are and your current state.

  • Step 2: bring awareness to the breathing for six breaths or a minute.

The goal is to focus attention on one thing: your breath. Be aware of the movement of your body with each breath, of how your chest rises and falls, how your belly pushes in and out, and how your lungs expand and contract. Find the pattern of your breath and anchor yourself to the present with this awareness.

  • Step 3: expand awareness outward, first to the body then to the environment.

Allow the awareness to expand out to your body. Notice the sensations you are experiencing, like tightness, aches, or perhaps a lightness in your face or shoulders. Keep in mind your body as a whole, as a complete vessel for your inner self.

If you wish, you can then expand your awareness even further to the environment around you. Bring your attention to what is in front of you.  Notice the colors, shapes, patterns, and textures of the objects you can see. Be present in this moment, in your awareness of your surroundings.