Throughout my years of teaching at the Chopra Center, one of the questions that I am most frequently asked by students is, “What do YOU do to stay balanced?” The stress-producing assumption buried in that question is that balance is a static state that we can reach and hold onto. In reality, balance is a dynamic state. In every moment our body and mind are changing as we exchange energy and information with the environment around us. Cultivating balance is about nurturing this dynamic exchange, allowing vitality, joy, and wellbeing to flow into our experience.
The core of what we teach at the Chopra Center is consciousness-based practices that promote this dynamic state of balance and wellbeing, helping us to be responsive rather than reactive, to be flexible rather than rigid, and to stay centered even when chaos is swirling around us.
Cultivating Balance Through Meditation
The cornerstone of the Chopra Center’s teachings is the practice of Primordial Sound Meditation. Meditation is not just about obtaining spiritual enlightenment, though that is a potential and profound result of a committed meditation practice. A few of the benefits that we tend to emphasize more is the expansion of awareness and our capacity to consciously and consistently choose what nourishes us rather than react from our habitual and conditioned patterns.
Meditation helps us to “flex the muscle” of our mind – giving us more control over what we focus on, and a greater ability to quiet the mental chatter that can be distracting, self-sabotaging, and sometimes toxic and destructive. Having struggled since early childhood with low-self-esteem and depression, I can personally attest to the power of meditation to focus the mind and enhance wellbeing.
Meditating daily fosters a deep sense of self-awareness that offers a larger perspective about ourselves, others, life’s situations and challenges – and ultimately brings us more love, peace, happiness, freedom, creativity, and inspiration. With an increased ability to focus and direct our attention, we can strengthen all areas of our life, including spirituality, health, relationships, family, and work.
Another means of cultivating balance in mind and body is through balanced nutrition. Next to breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function. We nourish ourselves by converting the energy and information of our food into the biological intelligence of our body. At our weekly Perfect Health program, we teach that ideal nutrition results from consuming a variety of foods that are deliciously prepared and eaten with awareness. A balanced diet containing a medley of tastes provides nourishment for our body and mind.
Eating all six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent) at every meal helps us feel satisfied and ensures we’re getting all the nutrients we need. In the United States, the sweet, salty, and sour tastes – found in meals such as a hamburger with a pickle and catsup – tend to predominate. We need to eat the other three tastes in greater proportions. Foods containing the bitter taste include green and yellow veggies and leafy greens. You can find the pungent taste in foods and herbs that have a heating effect on the mind-body, such as hot peppers, ginger, salsa, radishes, basil, and thyme. Foods with the astringent taste include beans, legumes, lentils, tea, cranberries, and pomegranates. Learn more about the six tastes here.
When we mindfully include these six tastes into every meal, we will discover that our appetite is satiated – our cravings will decrease and we will use food as it was intended . . . for true nourishment.
Yoga for Mind-Body Balance
If you’re like the millions of other people who practice yoga, you’re aware that it is a wonderful way to stretch muscles, improve spinal flexibility, increase circulation, improve muscle tone, and balance both hemispheres of the brain and both sides of the body. These benefits are excellent reasons to practice yoga, yet they only hint at the extraordinary and transforming power of this ancient discipline.
More than an exercise routine, yoga means union and is a complete science of balanced living and a path to higher knowledge and joyful abundance. The Chopra Center offers instruction in a unique form of yoga for body-centered restful awareness called the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. When adhered to and practiced mindfully, the yoga principles and techniques of the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga can be the keys to unlocking our creative potential, our capacity for love and compassion, and our ability to find fulfillment and success in all areas of our life.
The true essence of yoga is about experiencing and expressing the union of mind, body, and spirit. As we deepen our mindfulness of breath, move with awareness in a way that honors the needs of our bodies, and invite our spirit to thrive and be free, our yoga practice comes off the mat and into our lives. We find ourselves mentally and emotionally stronger when facing life’s challenges. We become more courageous in the face of uncertainty and change. We’re more resilient and bounce back more quickly after setbacks; and when we find ourselves in an “awkward position,” we discover that we can breathe deeply and access peace.
Moving into Balance: The Power of Exercise
Physical exercise is one of the most important components of living a healthy, balanced life. As a growing body of research shows, getting regular exercise is critical to both physical and psychological wellbeing. I discovered this in my own life about eighteen months ago when I began studying martial arts. At the time I considered myself to be very healthy and physically pretty strong – I was regularly practicing yoga, walking, and doing some hiking for exercise. During my first martial arts class, however, even though my yoga and meditation practices gave me a distinct advantage with focus, flexibility, and balance, I quickly realized that I was not as strong as I thought. My cardiovascular conditioning and endurance were minimal, and I couldn’t even make it through a one-hour class without having to take a few breaks to catch my breath. This was not only embarrassing; it was painfully eye-opening. For a little over a decade, I had been very focused on cultivating my mental fortitude and spiritual growth. Being honest with myself, I owned that my attention to my physical strength had diminished. Even though I was regularly practicing yoga, I realized that I had reached a plateau in my asana (posture) practice and had gotten in a comfortable flow of “taking it easy on myself,” and wasn’t progressing.
In addition to incorporating martial arts training into my exercise regimen, I recently started taking Pilates classes again and I love the benefits already. Pilates was developed about a hundred years ago and is a powerful exercise system using spring-based equipment to stretch and strengthen the whole body from the core to the extremities. Using precise movements, breathing techniques, and concentration, Pilates offers a full-body workout while it centers your mind. Like yoga, Pilates also dramatically improves strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, and posture.
What I’ve observed since returning to Pilates is that it has enriched my yoga practice – I’m going deeper into some poses, able to hold challenging poses longer, and my strength and focus in balancing postures is better than it has ever been. I’m trying new poses that I never thought I’d be able to do, and because my whole body and mind are stronger, I’m actually pulling them off! Pilates has re-inspired my yoga practice and is fun and challenging. It’s a perfectly synergistic combination.
If you’re feeling out of balance, stagnant or maybe you’ve reached a plateau in your practices, I encourage you to challenge yourself by learning something new or by enriching your current routine. Pilates, martial arts, and dance engage both hemispheres of the brain and cultivate balance, flexibility, and strength. The important thing is to find a physical activity that you enjoy and do it on a regular basis. When we’re consistently feeling healthy and balanced and we’re connected to our personal strength, we are more resilient and inspired to live a life we love.