6 Tips for Finding Peace and Staying Balanced

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/5/2011 10:00 AM   :  50 comments   :  17,663 Views

Throughout much of my teens and 20s, I was restless. I felt off-center, anxious, askew. I took medication for anxiety, wasted countless hours worrying, and generally didn't enjoy my life nearly as much as I do now.

Today, I am genuinely happy, well-adjusted, and relatively calmer.  The difference now is that my boundless energy is positive rather than anxious.

What changed? Several things.

As I aged and experienced more of life, I learned how to cope better. I didn't need to freak out if something "bad" happened. I didn't need to take on other people's drama as my own. And I didn't need to allow negative energy free access to me.

I realized that life is just that: life. Ups, downs, good, bad, it's all just life. It all balances out, and letting every little bump in the road sideline me is no way to live.

My senior year of college, a dear friend of mine shared a quotation with me: "The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." --Henry Miller.

Then, its meaning escaped me. Now, it's one of my guiding mantras.

Recently, I emailed an old friend who lives on the other side of the country. "I feel so centered and strong," I wrote. My friend asked me to clarify what I meant by "centered." To explain, I retraced my steps over the last couple of years. Many of the changes I've made were solidified by my 30th birthday trip to Honduras, a week spent with no contact with anyone back home, lots of yoga, and the infinite beauty of nature. There, amid days of reflection, I made a list of what has worked to help me feel calmer, more centered, and happier with my life.

In Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine that began in India that is considered a complimentary practice to yoga, there are three principles or tendencies (gunas) that all activities, foods, etc. possess:

Sattva: balance, order, purity. Sattvic activities are those that keep us balanced, calm, steady and peaceful. Anything that brings us happiness and better health is sattvic. Moderation is key to sattva. (Exercise, meditation/relaxation, anything you do to bring better health and happiness)  

Rajas: change, movement, energy. Rajasic activities energize us, excite us, bring about a great deal of passion or emotion. Rajasic activities are ones that rile the mind and induce anxiety or excess emotion, both positive and negative. Think of rajasic activities as equally excessive and overindulgent. (Working, texting/emailing/etc, caring for children and others)   

Tamas: negative, dull, lethargic. Tamasic activities are those that drain energy from us, those that keep us weighed down and depressed. Tamasic activities are overindulgent and slow the body. (Watching TV, drinking alcohol, binging, sleeping in.)

While each of us might naturally tend to favor one or two of the gunas, we should strive for a balance of all three. Ayurveda, like the healthy lifestyle plan SparkPeople touts, strives for balance and moderation.

At a recent meditation workshop, we were asked to write down the five activities that take up the most of our time each day. Mine were:
  • Work: rajasic
  • Yoga/exercise: sattvic
  • Eating: tamasic (if you, as I do, struggle to know when to stop!)
  • Cooking as a hobby/passion: sattvic
  • Web/iPhone/texting/calling: rajasic
Our teacher, Karen, implored that we shouldn't feel compelled to eliminate anything that's not sattvic from our lives; rather, we should think about when and how often we practice various activities. For example: Are you taking on energizing activities late at night? If so, is it affecting your sleep?

I thought about the changes I have made, which have allowed me to shed excess negativity, focus on the people who matter most to me, and find time for the healthy habits that I value.
  1. No TV and watch only your favorite shows. 
    A year ago, I moved into a new apartment, and I ditched my TV. It was at first a decision based on logistics. I didn't want to move the clunky old TV. I planned to buy a small one later on.
Soon, I appreciated the silence. I still watch my favorite shows, but my nights do not revolve around them. I watch online, when I have time, and usually while doing something else, like folding laundry. I tend to watch TV and do menial chores at the end of the day, when my mind is tired and needs to rest. I limit my TV to less than an hour per day.
  1. Violence is never entertainment.
    I have never enjoyed horror movies. I tried to make myself like them one October weekend when I was 12 during a daylong movie marathon. I slept with the lights on, and I had nightmares. The same goes for most action movies. I found them shocking, not entertaining.

    A few years ago, after watching a particularly violent yet critically acclaimed movie, I decided that I would no longer subject myself to violence of any form. Video games, movies, TV shows, books--I will not participate if there is any gratuitous violence. As a yogini, I live by the guiding principle of ahimsa, which means nonharming in Sanskrit, and my decision supports that commitment. This world has enough violence and negativity in it; I don't see the need to create more to entertain ourselves. Eliminating this rajasic element brightened my life.
  1. Begin and end the day with intention.
    Each night before I go to sleep, I lie in bed and silently give thanks for the day. I think of the day's events and how I reacted to the challenges I faced. Did I lead with my heart, or was my response less than kind? Instead of berating myself for falling short of my intentions, I focus on the positives. It sounds a bit maudlin, but it works for me. I then set my intention for the next day: What will I do or how will I react to a situation?
The next morning, I do the same thing: I spend a few minutes waking up and thinking about what lies ahead. I set my intention. I will practice yoga. I will be generous. I will not get annoyed when I have to clean the litterbox three times in one morning. (Don't ask--my cats are finicky.)

There are no rules, no intention that's too small or large. It only takes a minute or so, but I feel like it gets my day off to a good start and wipes my slate clean before sleep. This sattvic activity bookends my days.
  1. Set a communication curfew.
    I have an iPhone. And I like it. A lot. But I find myself reaching for it when I should be doing other things. With a swipe, some taps and a click, I can check the weather, text my best friend or listen to my favorite music.
That said, emailing, texting and calling are energizing--and often not in a positive way. Your friend wants to complain about her new boyfriend; your mom wants to coordinate schedules for a visit; your boss needs an answer to a difficult question. By saving those rajasic tasks for morning, when we tend to be refreshed, rather than before bed when we're trying to wind down, we can find peace and even sleep better.

In general, I avoid phone calls, texts and emails before bed--preferably after 8 p.m. That doesn’t always happen. I read but often do not respond to messages before bed, and if a friend texts or calls, I answer.
  1. Be choosy about what you read.
I like to read before bed. However, instead of reaching for an exciting novel or something else that will get my neurons firing, I choose to read spiritual or yogic texts or cookbooks (yes, I read cookbooks). These tend to calm my mind before bed.
  1. Let go of people who make you feel bad.
This one is hard, and it's a decision I didn't take lightly. I've made some significant changes in my life. I drink less, I go to bed earlier, I no longer enjoy loud parties or crowded events. I ended a long-term relationship, started another one, and shed some friends whose values and priorities didn't align with mine. I didn't cause a scene or judge their life decisions; I simply started pulling away slowly and they did the same. We're still friendly, but we don't spend as much time together. It was very unsettling to spend time with people whose values, habits and priorities didn't align with mine. Doing so doesn't make me better than those people; it makes me different.

Working at SparkPeople allows me the freedom and provides me the support to live life this way. I have no doubt that my life would not have followed this path had I not ended up here. I am fortunate to like the work that I do, and I am able to strike a balance among the three gunas (principles) at the office.

At 30, I'm happier and healthy than ever, and the future is bright. Wherever you are along your journey to a healthier you, I hope my story helps you find a respite, some peace and joy amid your wonderful, chaotic life.

What steps have you taken to make healthy habits part of your life? How do you achieve balance? What kind of activities comprise most of your time: sattvic, rajasic or tamasic?


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