Sunday, July 24, 2011
People often associate skateboarding with balance. On seeing me skate, I've heard people exclaim: 'how do you balance on that thing?!' and the like. What's interesting is that they're usually referring to the ability to travel on the board, [as opposed to the performance of tricks] an ability skaters take for granted almost as much as walking. And imagine if someone saw you walking and commented: 'Wow, you've got amazing balance!' You'd probably be surprised since walking doesn't seem to require much balance at all.
A skater becomes consciously aware of balance during tricks that go against gravity: during nose manuals [riding solely on the front two wheels] or fakie manuals [riding only on the back two wheels while travelling backward]. This is because the slightest imbalance returns all four wheels to the ground or throws the skater off his board. Nonetheless, though unappreciated, balance is essential for both walking and riding a skateboard: police test a person's sobriety by having them walk in a straight line, and non skaters who try to ride a skateboard often fall off immediately. Balance is thus a part of almost every activity, but it's more noticeable when strikingly difficult to maintain.
As a matter of fact, balance is an all pervasive aspect of life. If we enter into atoms, the building blocks of the physical universe, we find the subatomic particles, protons and electrons. Protons have a positive electrical charge, electrons, a negative one. Though Protons are much larger than Electrons, the overall charge between the two is balanced. If imbalance was to occur in the electrical charge of an atom - even as minuscule as 1:1,000,000th - the object in which the imbalance takes place would immediately explode. This includes the device from which you are reading this article; it also includes your brain. Our physical existence thus hinges on a most prodigiously delicate balance.
From the vantage point of biology, the body is constantly performing an internal balancing act. Scientists call this homeostasis. For instance, the body maintains the right amounts of blood sugar levels by having the Pancreas release the hormones insulin and glucagon. The former serves to lower sugar levels, and the latter, to increase it. The kidneys are constantly gauging the amount of salt in the body in order to assess how much salt or water should be expelled from the body so that the body's water/salt levels remain in the right proportions. The body also has an amazing mechanism to maintain a constant body temperature of approx. 37 degrees Celsius. When excessively hot,the body cools itself down largely by dilating blood vessels near the surface of the skin to allow body heat to escape. It constricts these same vessels in cold weather in order to retain heat.
Approximately 2400 years ago, the great philosopher, Aristotle, stressed the importance of psychological balance as a path to well being and self-actualization. He asserted that an individual should always seek the ideal balance between opposing psychological qualities: the 'Golden mean', as it is commonly called. Thus one should strike a balance between cowardice and rashness; meekness and assertiveness; kindness and stinginess; spontaneity and self control, etc. An imbalance in any pair of attributes has a detrimental effect on one's personality and function. For instance, excessive rashness tends to result in recklessness and self harm, while excessive cowardice impedes progress. The 'golden mean', however, yields courage: confidence accompanied by a realistic sense of caution.
Thus at every level of our existence - material, biological, and psychological - balance is critical, even though it is typically overlooked or taken for granted. When performing a nose manual, however, one comes face to face with this most foundational and ubiquitous aspect of the cosmos...