Sunday, November 1, 2009


"Work hard. Play Hard." It's the motto of many, but is it exactly what is harming us?

When I started walking I was very, very pigeon-toed. I have been told that I was tripping over my own two feet. This worried my parents and the doctors, so they decided to fix the problem--I wore a brace on my legs, which every night would turn my feet out. Eventually, I was walking normally, the brace was removed, and except for photos of this strange contraption, it is no longer a part of my life . . . or is it? My body appears to be telling me differently. As I grew up, I continued to be slightly pigeon-toed, and I was very conscious of it, so I worked hard to walk straight. Enough yoga classes where I turned my feet in a direction they did not want to go, and my leg started to hurt, and it got to the point where it felt like a pulled muscle. What started as a good idea--not tripping over myself for the rest of my life--led to pain in my leg (and if you want the details, yes, a pain in my butt as well). I had overcompensated.

We all do it; we overcompensate for that which may or may not harm us if we were to just let it be. Overcompensation is just another form of going to the extremes. I started this blog by saying that I have found dualism as a defining characteristic of my life, at least these past ten years, and one of my favorite songs is Billy Joel's "I Go to Extremes." In one of my favorite quotes in the song, he says, "Either I'm wrong or I'm perfectly right every time." It is this all-or-nothing attitude that defines so much of modern life and leads us to overcompensate--to work hard and then play hard.

The legal system is the epitome of overcompensation. At its core, justice is designed to help people, and help people it can. Let's not forget Brown v. Board of Education and NY Times v. Sullivan (where the Court said that it was okay to print the Pentagon Papers). But like any fix, it can, and has, gone too far. As a lawyer, I have spent most of my time studying and witnessing family law and juvenile law. This is where emotions enter the picture, and all bets are off. I have seen divorcing spouses spend $50,000-100,000 arguing over $10,000. Talk about overcompensation!!!

From the outside looking in, that seems crazy, and it probably is, but it is not, by any means, abnormal--even outside the realm of family law. We all get caught up in this overcompensation. What appears to be a good idea--a cleanse perhaps--can result in severe health problems, and even death. Getting back at your ex-spouse can seem like a good idea until you realize how much emotional (and financial) energy is wasted. Overcompensation and extremism result from knee-jerk reactions to our everyday events and lead us to results perhaps far worse than the original problem.

It makes perfect sense that we would overcompensate in a world of extremes. We are seeking to balance whatever is "wrong" in our lives. The most accessible yoga teaching I have ever received, in fact teaches doing just that: "If you're feeling down, move around. If you're feeling great, meditate." The yoga classes that have sprouted up at Juvenile Detention Centers do not result in those kids saying that they loved the physical aspect of the yoga. These kids, who spend their lives on the streets, in gangs, and doing crazy drugs, love to meditate. In the name of balance, we act as pendulums going from one extreme to the other.

But what happens when compensation becomes overcompensation? How do we recognize it? How do we, shall I say, center ourselves? We have to learn to put on the brakes. In the yoga teacher training class these past two weeks, we have discussed the tailbone as that break. When standing, the tailbone is the center of the body, and when it is down, we can reach high into the air while remaining grounded through our feet. Physically, the tailbone keeps us from overcompensating in any direction. Emotionally, it is not quite so obvious, but a deep breath and a little reflection can go a long way. Stepping outside the situation, removing yourself from the back-and-forth for just a moment can provide the insight to at least acknowledge what is happening. From there, we can determine the next step from, hopefully, a more centered perspective.

Perhaps we need to trip over ourselves a little bit in order to find the balance between the extremes.

© Copyright 2009. Rebecca Stahl. All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - I had special red shoes when I was about 2 to correct pigeon-toed walking too. It makes me feel funny (like makes my ankles hurt a little) to watch people walking pigeon-toed, even before I knew I used to. I knew we were kindred spirits :)