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balance beamWhen I mentioned to my husband that this month’s blog would be about balance, he laughed and suggested that I first start to make some changes, and then write and article in six months to share how I achieved a more balanced lifestyle. I have to admit that he is right. I have not done well with balance over the last two months. Most of us start the year with high expectations, good intentions, high energy and a long list of goals. That was how I began September – full of energy, many students, a waiting list, and lots of projects. By the second week of lessons, I had already suffered from illness due to stress. I was out of balance – I had fallen off the beam.

Instead of sharing my own ideas, I will summarize a session from the 2011 Music Teachers National Conference in Milwaukee entitled “A life in balance.” This was one of the last sessions presented at the conference and even though I was there, I was not able to attend so I purchased the MP3 DVD and listened to it. Meg Gray, a professor of music at Lincoln University of Missouri, and Ellen McQuie, family medicine physician, gave an insightful and helpful session in which they concentrated on the following five different areas to assist in creating a balanced lifestyle.

EXERCISE

Meg started by asking the audience, “What would fit into your busy schedule better? Exercising one hour per day or being dead 24 hours per day?” That one was difficult to swallow. I have many excuses for not fitting in exercise, but her question trumped them all. Different types of exercise include aerobic, strength training, core training, and stretching. A little bit goes a long way. For example, 5 days for 30 minutes per day or 5 days split into 3 times, 10 minutes per day of aerobic exercise equals 150 minutes per week – the suggested amount. Ellen McQuie suggested that we think about our schedules and find out where we can realistically fit exercise in. She also mentioned that contrary to some older studies, you can exercise close to bedtime and it will not affect sleep as previously believed. Good news for me – I am a night owl! Core training can be done every day and by strengthening the lower back, core and pelvic muscles; it will not only help prevent back injury but will also improve musical performance and increase stability and posture! Stretching can be done in between lessons with shoulder shrugs, arm circles and back extensions.

There are both risks and benefits to exercising. As always, it is important to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Risks include heart disease and muscular or skeletel injury. Benefits are a decrease in mortality, prevention of obesity, stress reduction, boost for the immune system, diabetic control, and a modest decrease in breast, pancreatic and intestinal cancer. Recent studies have shown a decrease in Alzheimer’s disease.

NUTRITION

Did you know that changing your dinner plate from a 12-inch to 10-inch diameter will reduce your caloric intake by 22%. Again, small changes go a long way. This was helpful to me, because I always think that I need to do something very drastic to make a change. What I am learning, however, is that small changes done consistently are apt to be more long-lasting. There are many helpful websites such as MayoClinic.com, WebMD.com, Mypyramid.gov, and everydayhealth.com where you can find nutritional tips, recipes and calorie counters. Eating every four hours helps to keep blood sugars stable and can reduce crankiness – good for us teachers! The last thing we want to do is to be crabby with our students due to low blood sugar. Along with Meg, I have found that it is better to eat my largest meal (or dinner) before teaching in the early afternoon and a snack after teaching, since I usually finish teaching later in the evening. Overeating at night leads to weight gain.

MASSAGE

This is my favorite category and one that I regularly engage in! Massage has been around since ancient times and its health benefits include pain relief, rehabilitation of injuries, and alleviation of anxiety and depression. It creates a calm, quiet, peaceful, and subdued state of mind. The four different types of massage are Swedish, deep tissue, sports massage, and Myofascial massage. Finding a massage therapist with whom you can communicate your individual needs is essential.

ILLNESS PREVENTION

To avoid the common cold, wash hands frequently. Send students home if they display signs of illness such as a flushed face (sign of fever) or excessive sneezing or coughing. Also, insist that students wash hands or use hand sanitizers and keep your piano keys clean and germ-free. Viruses can last on surfaces for several days. Meg recommended using Clorox wipes on piano keys that are not ivory. Personally, I do not like using chemicals on the keys. A more natural cleanser is vinegar and water. Flu shots are recommended for everyone these days and should be taken between the middle of October to November. Regular and consistent sleep is also important to staying well and avoiding illness. Try to relax before bedtime and put a ban on technology – no checking emails, voicemails, texts, etc.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH

In order to prevent burnout, emotional health is necessary. To strengthen your emotional health, engage in meaningful and creative work. As teachers, we already do that! However, if we find ourselves in a state of teacher burnout, some suggestions are to try out new music and teaching ideas or materials. Meg suggested remembering what we do; “We change lives.” This is profound and meaningful. In addition, be receptive to your five senses. In my case, take a moment to look out the window and notice the deer in my next door neighbor’s garden. Walk your student to the door to get a breath of fresh air. Interact with a pet – pets are a source of unconditional love, and can get us outside to exercise! Another valuable practice is meditation – Martin Luther once said that he needed to arise three hours early for meditation and prayer to prepare for a busy day. Meditation need not be religious – it could be writing in a journal, reading inspirational literature or simply clearing the mind.balance

Dr. McQuie suggested four coping strategies for difficult situations or people:

    1) Stay away from people that bother you if possible.
    2) Stay away from hot topics such as politics.
    3) Avoid overbooking yourself. Set priorities and put things off that need to be put off. Learn to say “no” to requests on your time. This is the most difficult for me. A colleague once said, “Make a list of all the things you do and then cut it in half.” I also find that when accepting volunteer positions, I try to find things that will stimulate and engage my creativity – things that I am interested in and passionate about. Learning to say “no” allows you to say “yes” to the things you truly want to do.
    4) Alter the situation: communicate your needs, accept, let go.

In closing, I hope you will find the previous recommendations to be of value. Start now to find small ways to improve your balance and stop burnout before it starts. Perhaps I will write a blog in six months where I can share my own experience in achieving greater balance in my life. I would love to hear of the ways in which you keep yourself healthy and balanced!