Balance with a What?

This post is a continuation of the previous post—if you haven’t read it, you should. I’ll wait ;-)

Then one day in massage therapy school, I was sitting in my Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology class, studying the little graphic illustrating the process of “negative feedback” involved in maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis is “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.”

For example, the way blood sugar is regulated—or kept in homeostasis—is through a negative feedback loop that goes like this: when we eat and digest food, our blood sugar levels go up. That’s a good thing: our cells need glucose for energy. But it’s also potentially destabilizing: if our blood sugar levels go up too much it can cause serious health problems. Fortunately, increased blood sugar is the signal to our pancreas to create insulin, which helps our cells to process the glucose. Whew! Crisis avoided, thank you pancreas! Except now we have another problem on our hands: the insulin created by our pancreas has done such a good job of getting the blood sugar into our cells where it can be used, that now there’s not enough blood sugar. And low blood sugar can also cause serious health issues. Oh noze! But just as high blood sugar sends a corrective signal to our pancreas, low blood sugar sends a corrective signal to the hunger center in our brain, and we start to feel hungry. Maybe even woozy and lightheaded. These feelings of hunger are a signal to our brain that — you guessed it! — we need to eat again! And the process starts all over again.

What hit me, as I was looking over this little diagram in my APP textbook, was that balance in this biological sense—in the ways that our bodies function to keep us alive—is not once and done, all or nothing. In fact, the way life itself works on a biological level is that systems are constantly falling slightly out of balance and then correcting themselves. Over and over and over. The falling out of balance part—the wobble—is not a glitch, but a feature.

Imagine that.

It reminds me of a Laurie Anderson song we used to listen to in college, Walking and Falling:

you’re walking / and you don’t always realize it / but you are always falling / with each step / you fall forward slightly / and then catch yourself / from falling / over and over / you’re falling / and then catching yourself / from falling / and this is how / you can be walking / and falling / at the same / time

Balance doesn’t mean rigidly walking a tightrope, constantly in fear of falling off. Balance definitely isn’t standing on the edge of the platform, afraid to take the first step onto the rope. There's another way to create and live in true balance: with a hop in your step and a sway of your hips and that thrilling feeling when you drive over a hill fast and leave your stomach behind! Constantly falling … and then catching yourself, over and over and over. I call this “Balance with a Beat,” inspired by the living, moving, fluid cycle of our very bodies known as homeostasis.

It’s so easy to lose our balance in these times, to fall out of step with the natural rhythms of our body and the most fundamental longings of our hearts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.