This is a word that means so much to me now…. and ‘not having it’ means even more.
My first thoughts when I think of balance are around what happened when I truly lost it. The ability to stand still and feel balanced…. something we often take for granted. It can bring a great deal of fear when you can’t do it – the physical and the emotional.
Post my operation I had to learn how to balance again… in both ways.
The first was physical … one of my ‘deficit’ issues post surgery was my balance. For someone who had played competitive sport and been a dancer, feeling wobbly just standing still was awful. It affected everything I did in my day. Not to mention, I lived in London AND I wasn’t able to drive anymore – so public transport was my only option. Getting on a bus to work and having to stand nearly had me in tears… and I had to do this twice a day and didn’t want anyone to know how much of a struggle it was not to fall over. My house was on five levels and the stairs felt like they moved as I walked up and down them – I had to concentrate so hard not to fall between steps. And the most frightening of all – the train and underground platforms. Not only had I lost my balance, but I had developed vertigo and when I stood on the platform waiting for the train, I felt like I was going to fall onto the tracks. I had to stand way back from the infamous ‘yellow line’ and for those of you who have lived in London and know the northern line in South London in the mornings… this meant hanging out on the platform for about an hour to even get on a tube!!!
When your balance is precarious ALL the time, its a bit like being seasick too – you feel really nauseous and very tired.
I was a runner and as I mentioned in my previous post on fitness…. I was ecstatic about getting back out running so soon after the surgery. As the months went by, my running got better and better and I kinda became Forest Gump – cap and all!!!!! The cap was needed as I sort of looked liked a “Cling On” from Star Trek and didn’t wanna frighten people!!. The really lousy thing though, was that I kept falling over when I went for a run and I just couldn’t work out why. It was really embarrassing and I have to admit, I am covered in scars from falling over . I would just lose my balance for no reason and it really knocked my confidence. And lets face it – my confidence was not exactly at an all time high anyway after what I’d been through, so I wanted to do something about it.
I decided to take up yoga. I’d never done it before but I knew that it might help with my physical balance issues and help me breathe again, some much needed emotional balance. I already loved a good headstand (back to the gym and people thinking I was a ‘freak’) so I would be in good company of others who enjoyed the art of being upside down!
I do laugh when I look back at my first foray into yoga. I was lucky enough to have a great studio near me in Clapham and I think my first class was with one of the most beautiful souls on the planet (Toni Osborne 😍). I felt so happy and so positive at the end of the class, I knew I was on the right path. Not only was my physical balance going to be addressed, but I had never let myself slow down and breathe like that before and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to meet this beautiful lady – you will know her energy and aura is so extraordinary – you come out of the class feeling utterly at peace. Although my balance wasn’t great, my strength was, because of all my other training, so I loved the physicality of the more challenging poses too.
Me being me, I decided to make my second class a supposedly ‘intermediate’ class . Please note I had joined a yoga studio to ‘improve my balance’ and also balance out the very intense gym training I do and help me find some calm after all I had been through.
The instructor – a man named ‘Mark Kan’, who is nothing less than extraordinary, teaches a practice called Dharma Mittra…. if you youtube this and Mark, you will see that this is possibly not what one should do in their second ever yoga class!! I think within 20 minutes of that first class, I had attempted about 20 handstands, 10 walking bridges, tried to balance on my chest with my legs over my head and then balance on my hands with legs in all number of places!!!! I was more pumped than a heavy gym session and I was hooked!!! Who needs to balance on their feet – I was upside down and as happy as a pig in sh*t!!! So much for chilled out yoga… I was now an upside down, adrenaline junkie! Bloody marvellous I thought – I’ll walk onto the tube in a handstand!!!!!
Now jokes aside…. I spent 2 years doing yoga in London and I absolutely loved it. My balance improved incredibly in that time (both on my feet and on my hands!) and I met some extraordinary people. It also became my ‘therapy’ of sorts and got me through some very, very tough times that followed – it brought me some emotional balance.
Emotional balance or ‘learning to be balanced’ is really hard for me. To be honest – before my surgery I wasn’t even sure what it meant.
What being ill taught me was to slow down. Slowing down does not come naturally to me – I do everything at 100 miles an hour (note: Guiness Book of records for brain surgery recovery blah blah!!) and only slow down when I literally crash! My body doesn’t like to do anything slowly so this meant my mind never had the chance to.
Now my body had forced me to slow down, whether I wanted to or not, and in turn, this meant my mind slowed down too.
Brain surgery is a funny thing. If you break your leg … you leg goes into a cast and you rest it until it heals. Even with something as serious as heart surgery… you rest the heart from doing strenuous activity while it heals. Well – try telling your brain that !!!
It does force you to ‘slow’ your mind though. I found over stimulating my brain exhausting … a day at work was enough so even things like TV and reading and certainly crowds of people became very difficult. Quiet time became a whole new thing for me – something I had never allowed myself to do. That was enough of a step towards meditation for me. You should have seen me in that first year in Shavasana at the end of a yoga class… I was like a 3 year old who’d been told to sit on the naughty step!! This was more exhausting than any handstand – ask me to be still and breathe, not talk and not think about everything I needed to do – were they mad?!!!!
I persevered though… and once I got the hang of it I loved it!! Actually – I became quite addicted to it. Lying still was one of my new highs!
What did this teach me – balance.
My goal was to apply this to my life a bit more. Finding balance doesn’t mean losing focus and determination though – I can’t live without these as you never know when you are going to need them to fight that bit harder through something tough. It also doesn’t mean throwing routine out the window…. some days we have to have this, as we are busy and it can actually help prevent stress.
It meant letting go a bit more and not being so prescriptive with life and all it throws at you. Learning to enjoy the things you love, the people you love and being able to accept change. I had made a promise to myself after the operation, not to take anything in life for granted. To do this, you have to allow yourself flexibility, accept change and be spontaneous. There was no place for rigid routines and formulas by which we often go about our lives. I’d spent years doing this – raising a child on my own, running an insanely busy career and then battling a life threatening disease. I’d done it all with military precision. Time to leave the army and join the circus!!! Well… in my case probably Cirque du Soleil ‘cos of my ability to bend, twist and stand on my hands!!!
I learned to get excited about the unknown…. not knowing what was around the corner became an adventure rather than a fear. It opens you up to a whole new way of looking at life – living, not existing.
I’m thrilled to say my balance is a whole lot better than it was…. just don’t let me drink more than 2 glasses of wine…. at that point I’m definitely safer upside down !!!!