Balance in Life After Bariatric Surgery: 6 AreasApril 8, 2019
I teach yoga in LA, and by far the most popular poses are balancing in an inversion - headstands and handstands. It’s as if there is a club, and it’s the best club to be in, and you can only get in if you can balance on your head or hands without the wall, in the middle of the room, with no one and nothing supporting you. It’s silly, and yet people are very serious about this.
A few years ago, during a class, I had a brave student ask when he would know he was ready to try his headstand in the middle of the room. All wanna-be-headstanders’ ears perked up. They had been too afraid to ask - asking was uncool - but they wanted to know. (By the way, most adults are concerned with “being cool.” We might give this phenomenon a more sophisticated name, but if you and I look honestly at ourselves, we often edit what we say and do in order to look good. It’s not just a run-away ego thing. Most of us are terrified of being rejected or judged, and it matters a lot to us to feel relevant, important and loved. Anyway, I digress.)
I could tell they were all expecting me to say something about their ability, such as “when you can hold plank pose for 3 minutes,” or “when you can pull off the wall into a balanced headstand, then you do it in the middle of the room.” Honestly, I thought I might say something like that, too. But then I matter-of-factly responded, “As soon you are comfortable falling.” And the moment I heard myself say it, I knew I meant it.
In that moment, my understanding of balance changed. I saw falling not as a failure at balancing, but as part of it.
Once I saw falling as an aspect of balancing, I began to see other ways that I had been misunderstanding balance. Many of us share an idealized image of “balance.” We picture ourselves balanced in life, covered in glitter and filled with joy, peace, and ease upon our achievement.
It’s as if we believe we will arrive at this magical place, this noun called “balance.” But have you ever studied someone balancing on their hands? Even a well-trained acrobat or gymnast? I have, and it does not look easy and I saw no glitter. I saw someone breathing slowly and concentrating deeply. I saw muscles I knew existed and many I didn’t know existed alternating between twitching, bulging and disappearing under the skin. And that was just the shoulders. Looking at the face, I saw confidence and strength peppered with fear and exhaustion. And I certainly did not see someone who had arrived somewhere. I saw someone working; one muscle doing one thing, then another, then another.
Grammatically, you can use “balance” as a noun. Experientially, though, balance is a verb. We are either in the process of and doing the work of balancing, or we are not. But we never arrive. We don’t sit quietly in balance. Balance is an action. We are in constant motion, correcting if we lean too far left, then adjusting for leaning too far right, then correcting left again. And on and on until we fall.
Another Misunderstanding About Balance
Another misunderstanding about balance is revealed in how we often talk about it. For example, I might say that “I am trying to balance my time (or my desires, money, etc.) between work and play (or my kids and my marriage, myself and my partner, etc.). This suggests that balance is (an often delicate) space between two or more things.
The art of balancing is not “between” two or more things, rather it is the holding of both (or several) things.
Imagine an old scale, the kind with a charming, familiar old face we would use to weigh your flour at a general store in 1824. Or, closer to home and a bit less charming, recall the pre-digital scales at the doctor’s office or gym. These scales, called “balancing scales,” use force (in the form of a counterweight of some kind) to determine the weight of the targeted item (flour, human, or whatever). In these images, we see balance as a description of a particular relationship between two separate forces, not as an achieved space.
When looking at our lives, it can be a critical error to think of balance as “a space between” or a location we are looking for. Alternatively, when we think of balance as a relationship between two (or more) constantly changing forces (such as the demands of work and play), we understand balance to #1), Be in constant flux and, #2) To depend on both forces. For example, we need work and play. Using a relational understanding of balance, without the force of play, work cannot be in balance. As another example, without the force of “me” time, my relationship cannot be in balance.
Balance in Life After Bariatric Surgery
Let’s take these principles about balance and apply them to six important areas of your life:
- Community / Tribe (Family, Social, Cultural)
- Physical Well-Being and Health
- Emotional Well-Being and Health
- Creativity, Self-Expression, Inspiration, and Play
- Spirituality / Questions of Existence, Purpose, and Meaning, etc.
- Work, Career, and Finances
We are appeased by the certainty of answers, but from where I sit, the world and all the awesome creatures in it are too diverse, too dynamic, and too mysterious for simple and guaranteed steps, guides, and strategies. Powerful experiences are evoked by interesting questions, not simple answers.
Ask yourself the following questions, applying them to each of the six categories (or the ones where you feel the most need for more balancing).
When thinking of falling as an aspect of balancing:
- What does falling look like in this category?
- What does falling gracefully (so I can get back up) look like?
- What do I need to feel courageous enough to risk falling in this area?
- When thinking of balancing as a verb as opposed to a “thing” or “place”:
- What changes for me when I think of “balance” in this area as a dynamic movement, not a single, static event?
- What actions could I take to be balancing more effectively in this area of my life?
When perceiving balancing as holding multiple forces:
- What forces are at play in this area?
- How can I honor them / hold them more effectively?
- What forces do I need to concentrate on to support balance in this area?
(For example, with emotional well-being, consider the force or “weight” of emotional distresses such as sadness, loneliness, grief, depression, etc. In order to be balancing emotional well-being, we need to find ways to incorporate and hold emotional pain).
Spend some time thinking about or, even better, journaling with these prompts. If you want to make dramatic changes in life, talk about what you discover with close friends, a therapist or your support group. Sharing is scary, I know. But it is also alchemical. When we share honestly and vulnerably, we transform. “Balance” is not for those who desire static perfection or who need certainty or sameness. The art of balancing, my dears, is for those who can hold the complicated, dynamic nature of living and who can tolerate constant movement. Balancing is for those who have the guts to fall an indefinite number of times, and who have the willingness to get back up that many times, plus one more time.
ABOUT THE AUTHORAngela Taylor is the Licensed Clinical Social Worker for the Khalili Center and has a dedicated private practice, Real Help Therapy. She offers understanding in order to prepare for post-op changes. Angela is consulted regularly as a weight management and eating disorder expert, some of her recent projects include: O, The Oprah Magazine, a two-hour special on OWN and multiple quotes in the New York Time’s Best Seller 20 Years Younger.
Read more articles by Angela Taylor!