The Art of Balance

How to find balance and maintain it


The Art of Balance

A friend asked me what I thought balance was. She wanted to bring balance into her life but she wasn’t exactly sure what balance meant. Trying to understand it for myself so that I could explain it to her I thought about what balance meant when riding a bike.

Positioning my center and the bike’s center directly over the wheels so that we were upright. That meant that the bike and I aligned with the forces acting on us. But there was a bit more to it than that because when the bike was moving it was easy to balance but not when it was stopped.

Obviously while the bike was moving the wheels where spinning. The spinning wheels and how they were related to the frame of the bike generated forces that pulled the bike upwards. I stayed upright by feeling those forces acting on me and the bike, allowing them to push (or pull) us upright.

Balance is Maintaining a Relationship

Continuing to ponder balance I realized a hole in my thinking when I asked myself why it was that I felt balanced when I was skating. There were no wheels spinning when I was gliding from skate to skate, no wheels to stop spinning when I stopped skating but like riding a bike it was only easy to balance on one skate while I was moving. What happened when I skated, what made it easier to balance while moving?

I realized that friction was created as I glided from skate to skate and that friction helped to generate an upwards force and it was that force that helped me to stay upright while I skated.

When I stopped skating or cycling the forces that were helping to keep me upright disappeared making it more difficult to balance. Not that it was impossible. It just required a finer sense of center. Knowing where my center was in relation to my skates or the wheels of my bike and positioning it over that thin line I could balance, otherwise I could not.

Thinking about spinning wheels and friction some more, these were aids to balancing but they aren’t really what balance is about. In both of these cases what I was trying to do was stay upright. I was trying to line up with the force of gravity but even more basic is that I was trying to maintain my relationship with the earth. Either riding a bike or skating I was trying to remain upright. That changed when going around a corner. Then I had to lean inwards but then that was just another relationship, this time between myself the earth and the corner I was going around. The key point about balance is that it is about maintaining a relationship.

In our relationship with the earth, we can stay balanced by feeling the forces that are acting between us and responding to those forces.

Feeling How Our Centers Relate

When we stand on one foot, how do we stay stable? We position our center of gravity directly over the center of that one foot so that our weight presses straight down through our leg, through that foot and down into the earth. If we place our weight so that it is not over our foot, then we tip over. Likewise if we are on both feet and shift our center so that it is not over the area between our feet, then again we fall over. The deeper or wider our base is the easier it is to keep our center over our foundation and the easier it is to line up with gravity.

One additional point with balancing on one foot, it helps if the foot, ankle, and even the knee and hip are all stable.

How do we know where our center is? By feeling the way our feet press into the ground. If one foot is pressing down with greater pressure because of gravity, then our center is more over that foot. If the outer edge of one foot is pressing down more than the inner edge then our center is positioned towards the outer edge of that foot.

Balance with respect to the earth is feeling our connection with the earth and using it to tell us where our center is. We can do the same whether we are standing on our hands or on our feet. We can use either of them to feel where out center is. And then we can shift our center as we want to.

If part of balance is the aligning of centers with their point of contact and with the forces acting on them, then another part of balance is knowing, feeling or seeing how all of those relate.

Maintaining a Relationship Despite Change

When I used to cycle with a friend in England, we’d often cycle one behind the other so that the person in back got to rest while the person in front did the work of blocking the wind. Personally, I stayed in the back as often as possible. My friend was training for triathlons so I thought this was beneficial for him.

Because I was in the back it was easy to speed up without any extra effort so I had to coast or if I did start to accelerate, then stick my head up into the wind to help me slow down so that I didn’t crash into my friend. Then, once I had matched speeds again I pulled my head back down into the draft.

When we were going straight and there was no wind then I’d position myself directly behind my partner for the best draft. If there was a wind blowing from the side then I would have to shift relative to my. We’d still be going straight ahead, but I’d be behind and slightly to the side, so that we were both pointing in the direction we were going but angled in line with the wind. And we both had to lean to the side slightly to balance the push of the wind and keep on going straight.

A similar thing happened when we were going around a bend. We’d both have to lean inwards but to keep in the draft the rider in the back, me again, would shift his line slightly outwards. To keep in the slipstream, if we were going around a bend to the left, I’d shift slightly to the right.

Whether we were experiencing a side wind or going around a corner, in both cases the rider in the back would shift position so that he could stay connected to the rider in front. We maintained our relationship by lining up with the forces that acting on us. And if we slipped out of balance then the person behind would slow down or speed up so that we moved back into balance.

Balancing on two feet I can use my feet to feel where my center is and reposition it as I need to so that the relationship is maintained. Riding with a friend I used my eyes to sense the relationship, staying a set distance behind my friend and then using the wind or pedal power to vary speed and to maintain that relationship.

In both of these cases balancing is a process. We monitor the relationship we are in, and when something changes we do something in response, so that we can keep the relationship intact.

Having my yoga classes do balance poses on one foot I watch the foot they are balancing on and it is amazing to see how much that foot changes throughout the duration of the pose, pushing at one side or the other to keep the body upright. I notice it myself doing handstands, using my fingers to nudge my center of gravity so that it stays over the center point between my hands.

These days I can balance on one foot and keep it reasonably still. That's because I sense any changes as early as possible. As a result I can stay balanced with as little effort, with as little change as possible.

Balance, feeling the forces that act on a relationship so we can maintain the relationship or change it the way we want to. Balance, feeling the relationship itself so we can change it as we have to.

Balance is a Process of Refinement

In physics class my professor taught us that missiles and bombs and arrows all have tail fins to create drag, another word for friction. Without fins, the back end would have the tendency to try and overtake the front end causing the missile to turn in mid air. Because the front end blocks the wind as the missile travels through the air the back end experiences less friction. With fins at the back end of the missile, friction is created which helps to slow the back end down enough that it stays behind the front end.

Balance, forces pulling in opposite directions so that the backend lines up with the front end. One force, from the missiles rocket motor, propels it forwards. The other force, drag from the fins, keeps it aligned. And so the back end relates to the front end, staying behind it. Balance, the front lines up with back and the whole lines up with the forces acting on it.

Imagine making a rocket. On our first attempt we don’t add fins and during the launch, it tips over at some point.

So we add fins to the back end because we realize we have to slow the back end down. But then we find the fins slow it down too much because we made them too big.

So we make them smaller. Now the rocket can achieve escape orbit and launch our satellite into space.

When we attempted our first launch the rocket tipped over. We could say it wasn’t balanced. Why? Because the back end didn’t line up with the front end. When we launched the second rocket the back end did line up with the front end but we didn’t achieve orbital altitude before our fuel ran out. So we had balance in one aspect but we needed to refine it. Finally, third attempt, success. The front aligned with the back and we did what we wanted to, we got the thing into space.

Refining our Understanding

Balance is understanding relationships and the forces that affect the relationship. Balance is maintaining a relationship, by feeling the forces that can affect that relationship and it is changing the relationship to minimize the unwanted affects of those forces. With the rocket balance was not eliminating drag, it was reducing drag just enough by making the fins small enough that they helped orient the rocket without slowing it down.

And for myself, cycling behind my friend, I wasn’t continuously staying in his slipstream. If I started to go too fast, I’d use the wind to help slow me down. And then tuck back it once I was at the right speed.

Of course I did occasionally take the front so my friend could rest, and I learned something there too. As I accelerated on my super fresh legs to take the lead, I would accelerate too fast, without giving my friend time to tuck in behind me. Hardly a balanced relationship!

Balance, a process of maintaining the relationships we are in by monitoring the relationship and the forces acting on it and responding.

It’s not that the relationship doesn’t change, it does, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot but the important thing is that the relationship is maintained. The idea is kept alive.

Balance, staying aware of a relationship as well as the forces acting on that relationship and adjusting one or the other or both so that we continue to head in the direction we want to go, or so that we continue to do what we want to do.

Balancing the relationships in our lives

While I was at university I loved to exercise. At the same time I had to find time to study. During the best term that I had, I enjoyed all of the courses I was studying, I was living with people that I really liked and I was exercising regularly.

Sometimes when I was studying I found that I was getting tired or unable to concentrate. So I used that as an excuse to go rollerblading or running. Generally, after I had exercised I was in a better mood to study. Meanwhile I couldn’t exercise so long that I didn’t have time to study, so the two kept each other in balance. Sometimes, going out for a run or a skate, I was able to figure out problems that I couldn’t figure out while staring at a book. And when I wasn’t in the mood for either I’d chat with my roommates or play video games or go out for a beer.

When I studied, I studied and I did it for long enough that I got into a groove and did something useful, learned something. Likewise, exercising, I gave myself enough time to warm up, exercise and cool down. When I wasn’t doing one thing I was doing another and I was enjoying myself.

It was as if I was riding a wave that kept me in tune with myself and all that was around myself.

That was the one term I did well enough to make it to the dean’s honors list.

Getting Stuck in the Center

Imagine being on a teeter totter (see-saw). We go up and our friend goes down and then they go up while we go down. When we are down we push the ground hard enough so that we go all the way up and the other side goes all the way down and vice versa. We take turns but overall we are in balance, turning around a center point.

There have been times where I have had many things to do and I didn’t do anything because I was scared to start on one thing at the expense of something else... and so nothing got done. It was like being on a teeter totter but both of us are hanging in mid air and neither one of us able to get our feet on the ground so that we can get things moving again.

It's balance, but it's stagnant.

Balance, going far enough in one direction so that we can go back the other way.

Feeling the forces that act on us, the moods that take us, we can work on balance across time, taking turns on with each of each of the ideas in our lives, feeling our relationship with each one and maintaining it and then moving on to the next one, cycling through them all continuously but paying attention to each one as we are with them.

Riding a bike or skating, balance is easy when we are conscious of the forces acting on us because we can use those forces to our advantage, we find the easy way to stay aligned. We can do the same when balancing aspects of our lives through time. We can feel the forces acting on us and use our moods, what we feel like doing to help us get things done.

In the mood for studying, then study, in the mood for exercise, then it’s time to go to the gym. At the same time we stay aware of our relationship with each of these ideas. And so that we know what those ideas are we can ask ourselves “Why am I doing this?” Knowing the ideas in our life and why we are doing them, we can work towards a balanced relationship with each of them.

Balance, feeling all the aspects of our lives, all of the ideas, and our relationships with them and knowing why we are doing them.

Running with the wind or running to create it

A kite will stay aloft because of the string we use to pull it back against the wind. The wind pulls the kite one way while we pull it the other way. As the wind blows harder we let out the string as the wind dies down we pull it back in so the kite is always balanced between opposing forces.

If we don’t let out the string, what could happen? Lots of force on the string and extra work holding the string and if the string isn’t strong enough it could break.

If we don’t pull in the sting when the wind dies down what happens? The kite falls out of the sky.

Initially it’s trial and error, how much string to let out or pull back in, but as we gain more experience, we know how to keep just the right amount of tension on the string.

Flying a kite we learn that we can create the illusion of wind, by running and pulling the kite as we go. And that is sometimes what we have to do to get the kite up in the air, create wind.

We can also run with the wind to reduce some of its power.

And we are not always flying a kite. We take a break and do something else, so that the idea of flying can rest. And sometimes the idea of us needs to rest to. And that is part of balance too, resting and knowing when to rest.

Balance, if the forces aren’t present to keep the relationship stable, then we can create them. If the forces are too great then we can run with them to reduce their affect.

Feeling the Winds that pull us

A sailboat is a little like a kite, the wind pulls it. As the wind pulls, friction is created along the surface of the hull as it passes through the water. A lot of time is spent designing boat hulls to reduce friction, yet at the same time it is that friction which helps to keep the boat stable. So designers try to find the balance point. Just the right amount of friction so that the boat stays stable, yet not enough to slow it down too much.

Sailing in the Baltic the captain had me minding the tiller while we sailed at night. I had a lighted buoy to aim for. Constantly keeping my eyes on that light I began to go cross-eyed and the boat meandered from side to side. I had yet to learn how to feel the motion of the boat. Learning how to feel the boat, feeling myself as the boat moved, I would learn to feel when the boat went of course so that I could correct for it then, and then I’d only need to occasionally check the light to make sure we were still on course.

Sailing a boat is not a passive process. The captain has to tune in to the wind and the sea watching for signs, feeling them. As the wind picks up he’ll adjust the sails to either take advantage of the wind, or to spill some wind if it’s a little bit too strong. And he or she angles the sails just right so that the wind takes them in the direction they want to go.

The wind and the seas are always changing and the ship changes in response. That’s part of the captain’s job, staying aware of all these things and making changes where he can.

The better he knows his ship and crew the easier it is to choose what to do in any given circumstance. And that’s really when he dances, when he knows his boat and crew so well he doesn’t have to think, he knows, it’s a part of him just as every crewmember has their job as a part of them. So rather than think, they do, but they do it with feeling, by feeling, by being aware.

Sailing Through Life

How do we sail through life? By understanding the relationships in our life and the elements of those relationships, and learning to feel the forces that act on those relationships. And just as much as a captain must learn his ship to partner with it well so can we learn ourselves so that we can sail through life well.

A sailboat captain might learn to feel the wind and the sea and at the same time be aware of how his sails are set. We can learn to be aware of how our sails are set and what to watch for in our lives so that it is easier to make corrections in the course of our life, so that it is easier to balance our lives.

If a particular wind is too strong we can adjust our sails so the force of the wind on the our sails is reduced. If the wind is not very strong, we might choose to put up more sail. Or we practice the skills we might need for when the wind does pick up again.

Part of learning to sail is experimentation, playing with the sails and making observations of what works. And then as we learn sailing becomes second nature, we learn how to balance the wind and the seas and keep our ship intact. Sometimes sailing gets easier and sometimes the sea always has a little bit more to give us, and so we continue to learn, continue to grow and continue to live.

Can we guide ourselves with just the lightest touch? Can we learn to use the minimum amount of effort with the maximum amount of benefit? Or can we use the maximum amount of effort at exactly the right time to do what we need to?

I sailed through life in most of my time in university because I enjoyed myself and because I listened to my inner self, my inner seas as if they told me when it was right to study and when it was right to exercise and when it was right to go out for a beer or two. We can sail through life if we but listen to the sea that is inside us, the winds that blow within us, knowing that when the seas are tranquil, then it is time to rest.

Balance is knowing the relationships that we are a part of and it is feeling and sensing the forces that act on us so that we can use them to take us in the direction we want to go.

Published: 2022 08 17
Defining ideas, relationships (and change) for better understanding, problem solving and experiences