A Better Work-Life Balance Sounds Good, But What Does it Really Feel Like?

How many times have you felt that you want more balance in your life? Everyone talks about work-life balance these days. We think about what is over- and under-emphasized in our lives. We plan ways to include more fun and relaxation. We wonder why all this doesn't make a real difference. We complain that we can't get control over our lives. I find it fascinating, however, that we're only consider the question from our heads. In my experiences as a yoga teacher, bellydance teacher, and masseuse, I have found that the state of our lives is reflected in our bodies. And even more important, our bodies affect the state of our lives.

Your Body Expresses Your Balance

For instance, you know that emotions show up in a person's posture. You can tell when someone is feeling sad or empowered or cheerful, just by the way they stand and move. You may not be aware that it also works the other way around. The way you stand and move directly affects your emotions. It's a 5-part process. Here's an example of it in action...

  • If you are feeling depressed or scared, you can make a conscious effort to shift your body language -- sitting up tall, opening the chest by relaxing the shoulders back, releasing your facial muscles, etc.
  • After a few moments, your mind takes the message from your body that everything is okay, that you are confident and safe.
  • Your mind begins to actively search for thoughts that support this new information. "Yes, I find that things usually work out okay in the end." "I've dealt with this situation successfully before."
  • Then your mind begins to look for confirmation of this new state in your environment. "It really is a lovely day." "I'm lucky to have this time to spend quietly right now." "Actually, it's obvious that Joe is having a bad day and is just dumping on me because I'm the nearest target... it's not really about me at all."
  • And then people start treating you differently, because they're reading this new body language of yours. As people treat you as confident, happy, etc., it reinforces this experience of yourself as a confident, happy person.

You can see how this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. It can work to pull you up to new levels of success and well-being. Same thing with smiles. When the last thing in the world you feel like doing is smiling, try it anyway. Engaging your smile muscles sends an instant message to the brain that things are looking up. Your brain automatically starts to work from that assumption. Even better, you can see directly how other people respond to your inner state, as they start smiling back without even knowing why. There are studies that have proven that when you hold a smile on your face, even if it doesn't feel real, it's harder to think of negative things, and easier to think of positive things. Of course, the same thing happens with a frown.

Your Body Influences Your Life, Too

These are only two examples of the many ways that your body affects your mental state and your life experiences. So when I hear all this talk about "balance" I wonder, what does it actually feel like? How is imbalance expressed in our bodies? How can we bring more equilibrium into our actual reality -- our physical body -- in order to we experience more balance in our lives? Here's a way to experiment with your relationship with your life's obligations and opportunities, as it is reflected in your physical being. You can do this sitting down, for starters. Close your eyes for a minute and notice your body's position.

  • Does it feel centred, like your spine is aligned directly from Earth to Heaven?
  • Do you feel somewhat off-centre?
  • Does one side feel more slouched than the other?
  • Is one shoulder hunched up? Maybe both of them?
  • Do you feel like you're sitting a little heavier on one buttock than the other?
  • Is your chest dropped down? Or your lower back highly arched?
  • Is your head leaning more to one side, or bending ahead of your shoulders, or tilting backward?
  • Does your body twist a little to one side?
  • Does your back feel ramrod straight, and just as rigid?

Don't change your position yet. Just feel your position in space for a minute or two. Be patient... in the Western world we are taught to lose our sense of our bodies, so you may be out of practice. It will come back though, as you pay attention. (If you can't feel anything, you can also try seeing yourself in a mirror, or asking someone you trust if you look properly aligned.)

What Your Body Can Tell You About Your Life

The way your body sits when you're not paying attention to it can tell you a lot about your life. For example, if you are hunched forward, you may be holding back or withdrawing from life, perhaps trying to protect yourself from pain or disappointment. If your back is arched, you are pushing hard through life, trying to control things perhaps, or make your mark. If more weight is on the left side, you are probably focused more on an interior life or your emotions. On the right, you are probably more goal-oriented and linear or practical. This is just the briefest overview. You can learn to interpret the messages your body is giving you... and the rest of the world.

How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

Now that you've received the message your body has to offer (or at least started to), you can consciously take command of your life by realigning your posture. Play with shifting your weight -- the literal balance of your life. Move your spine from side to side until you feel your weight equally distributed on your sitting bones. Sit a little forward and a little backward, until you find the place where your weight lines up naturally. This is the place of least resistance. When your posture is stabilized this way, it takes virtually no effort to remain there. This is the position used in meditating. There's another reason why this is the meditative posture. When your spine is aligned in this way, each vertebra stacks on top of the lower one in just the way it was designed to be. When this happens, life force energy moves more easily through your body, then through your mind, then through your life. As this happens, your life naturally starts to become more effortless and enjoyable.

Taking It Out Into Your Life

You can also do this exercise on your feet, playing with how the weight rests on your feet, distributes between each leg, etc. As you practice doing this, even a few times a day, you will find yourself able to tell more easily where your balance is, and when it is out. Even better, though, every time you do this exercise you are instructing your body in a very positive, compassionate way on how it is supposed to be. A good balance will eventually become second nature. When you bring this awareness to the alignment of your posture, you will find that as your body increases its balance, so does your life.

You Can't Live Well Without Your Body's Help

If you are trying to change your work-life balance without bringing balance to your body, subconsciously you will be sabotaging your efforts. It's inevitable, because your body is trying to tell you how and why your life is out of balance. Working with awareness of your body's balance, you begin to understand the interior processes that throw off the parity between career demands and personal well-being. And you automatically begin to remedy that imbalance at a cellular level. Balance becomes not just something you think about and try to manage, but a way of being in the world; not just a head-game but a physical reality. Try it for yourself, and witness the difference this simple shift can bring.

Balance is a dynamic state -- it keeps shifting as it calls our attention to what is going on in our minds and bodies as well as our lives. A wonderful tool for helping bring balance into your life is creating mandalas. Drawing mandalas is a lot of fun and a great way to discover yourself and explore the fine art of living a balanced life. And you don't need to know how to draw!