The Yoga Philosophy of Balance and Why it Matters for Over-Achievers

Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create. — Jana Kingsford

Yesterday was a bit of a tough day. For a whole bunch of reasons I don’t feel like unpacking right now, there was just a really tense atmosphere in my house. It didn’t help matters that we had Open House at my kids’ elementary school, and events like that tend to trigger both my and my son’s anxiety. Don’t ask. We don’t understand it, either.

By the end of the day, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. It was time to do my workout, and I just couldn’t find the motivation. My body was telling me it wasn’t available for a HIIT workout (high intensity interval training) or heavy lifting session. But, of course, I found myself searching through my Peloton app for one of those types of workouts anyway. On a whim, I decided to scroll through the Yoga section of workouts. I love yoga, but I often neglect it. So, last night I decided to honor what my body was telling me and do a yoga practice instead of a more physically demanding type of exercise.

I selected a workout called Yoga Balance Flow. Who doesn’t need a little work on better balance, right? It sounded perfect.

As the workout began, I realized that the name “Balance Flow” had a double meaning. Yes, we were going to work on finding balance in our bodies, but we were so going to find balance in our minds.

The instructor introduced the concept of Samatva. This yoga philosophy of balance emphasizes achieving equilibrium in various aspects of life, including physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions. It involves harmonizing opposing forces, such as effort and relaxation, strength and flexibility, and introspection and engagement. This balance is believed to lead to overall well-being and a deeper connection with oneself and the world around you.

As we went through the practice, the instructor spoke about people like me who are too disciplined, too hard-working. She said that although being highly motivated to achieve has many benefits, it can also be a weakness. If people like me don’t make deliberate choices to find rest, to take it easy, they will eventually burn out. She emphasized that finding balance, Samatva, means learning to trust your body, to seek rest when you need it, and to pursue restoration as determinedly as you pursue work.

I’ve never though of it this way — that rest can actually be a goal to achieve. Funnily enough, viewing rest as a goal I can work toward helps scratch that over-achieving itch that’s never too far away. I have this restless need to constantly accomplish things. If I’m still for too long, not pursuing a mighty goal, I feel like I am wasting my time. So, why would I do yoga when I can do a Climb Ride on my Peloton and burn 600 calories? Why would I take a nap when I could write something for my newsletter? After all, life is short, and we don’t have that much time to get things done.

What I realized in my yoga practice was that such dogged pursuit of achievement cannot lead to a life of joy. As I moved through this very low-key yoga exercise, I realized how good it felt to have listened to my body, to have chosen something easeful because that’s what my body needed. Sure, I could have done a hard core weights workout, but my body was screaming at me that I required something different. I’m proud of myself for listening.

For me, and maybe for all of us over-achieving types, finding balance may mean seeking the right type of rest. I will always need something to stimulate me. When it comes to exercise, I really need to do something physical every day or my mental health suffers. But my body simply cannot handle being pushed to the upper bounds of its ability every single day. Finding rest may not look like taking an entire day, or several days, off from exercise. For me, rest may look like practicing yoga, going for a nice outdoor walk, or doing a relaxing stretch session. These are things that allow my body to rest but still make me feel like I am working toward my goals.

I need to implement the philosophy of Samatva in all areas of my life — my work, my parenting, my marriage, and more. I’m starting with exercise because it feels like the lowest hanging fruit, the easiest thing to work on. But from now on, my mental energy will be focused on achieving balance, on finding equilibrium. I will work on being a well-rounded human being, not a permanently exhausted over-achiever. I will bring harmony to my hard work, rest to my reaching, and patience to my pursuits. I deserve it. I am worth it. And taking steps to bring balance to my life is how I will show myself just how worthy I am.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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