The Human Balancing Act

Rope Walking, Science and the Human Balancing Act

young d on a rope

This is me 25 years ago … and I’m still doing the same thing.

Have you ever had to justify spending time standing on a rope to someone who doesn’t get it? … your parents? Or, in my case …. my kids.
Let’s start this by saying that I’m a big fan of playing with ‘Imbalance’ …. In fact it’s my obsession and a huge part of my job.
I’m in my 50s and I’ve spent much of second half of my life studying many of the aspects of what we do and go through when balancing; physically, emotionally, psychologically and perhaps spiritually too … As an Actor, Movement Director for Film, TV and Theatre, and a Circus Performer. … As you might imagine, life has been great fun … and the studies have been fascinating. There is some evidence to show that, once the skill has been acquired, the act of balancing on a tightrope/Slackrope … or more recently, a Slackline, builds core strength, aids focus, can bring down blood pressure and bolster the immune system.
You can’t investigate what we do, what our body/mind goes through, when playing on a slackline, without having to take anatomy, psychology and behavioural neuroscience into account. Well, YOU can … I meant that I can’t.

Alright … Deep Breath …
With a dispassionate and mechanistic study … (scientists love that.) it is possible to analyse and compartmentalise the structure from an entity into smaller and more distinct parts in isolation.
It is possible to engage with the function, for example, of the lungs and the transfer of gasses to and from the blood stream … but then we must connect this function to the musculature of the chest and abdomen, the nerve impulses which are involved in the instigation of the firing of those muscles … the beating of the heart which transports the blood around the rest of the body and to the lungs, and the chemical signals registered within the brain which are informed by the level of acidity within the blood passing through it that another breath must be taken to exchange more gas in order that the entire system can function at a level which is non-critical. …. This might sound like ‘Blah Blah’, but this is going on right now inside each of us without us being aware of it. This is the fundamentals of a ‘Balancing Act’ performed moment to moment … and we haven’t even got out of bed yet, let alone stood on a slackline.
This unconscious adjustment is to keep us/You/Me in a state called ‘Homeostasis’.
This is where I start getting annoyed with the language scientists (including myself) use …. It’s the ‘Stasis’ bit I don’t agree with. Stasis is a concept. It’s another word for Balance …. And there is the heart of the matter. …. We are never balanced … Never …. No, stay with me on this and you’ll like it. I find this liberating.

The ability to maintain a stable upright position is taken for granted by most adult humans, however this seemingly simple and commonplace position requires a complex combination of coordinated cognitive, sensory and muscular adjustments.
How is it that we can be so oblivious to this wonderful dance of equilibrium when scientific studies have shown that we all sway beyond the optimal point of balance again and again., even while in a relaxed two footed stance on solid ground?
Is a moment of stillness possible? The planet is always moving … our blood flows .. our hearts pound… our autonomic nervous system is constantly adjusting our relationship between ourselves and the world around us .. a breeze caresses our skin and we are affected by it .. a sway .. micro-adjustments in the muscles help us to deal with the changes in temperature … our relationship to the environment around us and our continued perceived stasis. We are not symmetrical … our liver is to one side, our heart to the other. As we grow, our relationship to the environment changes on a moment to moment basis …centre of mass, centre of gravity, point of focus, needs, wants, desires, bodily functions. This constant adjustment is a dance of life and, it could be argued, the dance begins before conception and ends … who knows when. This may sound like “new Age Hokum” but the complexities of existence are labyrinthine …. And here’s the joy …. It seems that …. I mean, scientific studies have shown that ( I love it when I can write that to back up my argument) by actively engaging with states of physical imbalance, we are giving a thorough work-out to all the other aspects of our lives, releasing neuro-chemical cocktails which expand our conceptual framework of existence and further preparing us emotionally, psychologically, physically and , perhaps even spiritually for our unfolding balancing act of life.

We’ll continue this at some point soon.

Have fun … I do.

One thought on “The Human Balancing Act

  1. Such a relief to finally acknowledge the pressure to remain ‘balanced’ is all an illusion! Not perfect, just inside an ongoing and unfolding process. Phew. I’m sure my attention will be drawn to the moments when I consider myself ‘still’. Lovely – thank you, very thought provoking.

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