I have a new trainer at my gym. He took one look at me and my aging, portly body and said that we would start by working on balance. So for the past several sessions, I have been standing on one leg while moving the other in a semicircle from forward to back (“Use your hips, not your feet,” I was admonished). Luckily, he will sometimes put a hand on my shoulder to keep me from toppling over, particularly when it is my left leg that is balancing me.
Or I have been striding with first one foot and then the second onto a small half-sphere platform and stepping down, hopefully without falling on my face or butt at any time during the motion. Or I have been holding onto handles pulling weighted ropes from an apparatus, leaning back, supporting myself on one foot, and then trying to move the other leg outward while pulling the ropes toward my body. I’m not sure that I described that accurately, but it is a true example of multi-tasking. And I have to do three sets of 15 repetitions. And not too well, I must admit. So much for balance….
|Balance means giving me a ball to climb on|
and a chair to lean on at the same time.
When I asked the trainer why he had me starting in this way, he said that we were doing what is “functional.” Huh? He added, “When you get up in the morning, you want to be able to get out of bed smoothly, without falling, right? And you don’t want to be bent over when you get older.” All of which sounds good to me but also makes me wonder just how old or “unbalanced” the trainer thinks I am.
Speaking of balance…..
The day after one training session a few weeks ago, Audrey and I headed up to the Berkshires for a cultural weekend. One stop was at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, MA, which is Audrey’s favorite place to see modern dance performed. Audrey has been taking modern dance classes for more than 30 years, and I must say that she has good balance. She has also been “dragging” me to modern dance performances for most of those years. (BTW, I purposely used the word “dragging” to piss her off, in case she reads this post.) We had tickets to a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company. This is not my favorite group. It is hard to explain why, but there is something that is too stark about some of their dances for my taste. Plus there are those strange costumes, where the dancers seem to be stuck in a cloth bag and trying to fight their way out.
Obviously, lots of people coming to Jacob’s Pillow that day did appreciate the Graham style because tickets were at a premium, even ordered months ahead. Our group could not get seats together, and I found myself in a solo seat in the fourth row, very far left. I was close enough to see the dancers sweat. And to see them display some remarkable balance as well. Just how do you stand on one foot, hold the other leg perfectly perpendicular, and maintain that pose for several seconds, then keep repeating the process as you move across a wide stage? And imagine doing this while wearing an uncomfortable costume! It almost seems unnatural.
I was struck while watching the dance and while doing my exercises that we are all looking for balance in our lives. True to my training as an English major, I began looking for a suitable quote to fit this idea. Here is what I came up with:
In order to effectively interlock with higher spheres of mind and attention, you must have tremendous balance and control. You learn that it is more fun to have control than not to.
-- Quotations by Zen Master Rama
. . .which sounds good, but what does it really mean? What does it require to have control? And, more to the point, is having control really “fun”? I am not sure that I am having fun when I succeed in standing on one foot without falling during a training session, but I am gaining balance, which I am told will be helpful as I move into my golden years (in the distant future, of course).
I have been doing a double search for balance, trying to lighten and tighten my body at the same time. I am proud to say that I have lost nearly 25 pounds during my latest diet (“Don’t think of it as a diet, but as a new way of life,” Audrey would say.). While I know from personal history that I have not really changed my way of life for good, I am gratified to know that when I visit my mother next week, I will be less rotund than the last time we were together. And that’s something to write home about.
So I figure balance doesn’t mean merely being able to stand on one foot while doing lots of different things with your other body parts. And it doesn’t mean merely eating enough fruits and vegetables to achieve a balance with the less healthy things you consume each day. Balance is exerting control and hopefully moving to a higher sphere. But have you ever tried to balance on a high sphere without toppling? It’s a challenge.