Balance is one of the fundamental elements of a healthy life well-lived. To me and many other Hawaiians, this is known as pono – a native phrase meaning “to live a life in harmony.” It means having a connection with ourselves, a connection with others, and a deep connection to a spirit larger than ourselves. When any one of these connections is missing, our life begins to feel out of balance. As a licensed clinical psychologist, I encounter many people who are missing their pono.
I’d like to share the story of Arma, a Native Hawaiian wife and mother who devoted her life to caring for her family’s needs, at the expense of her own health. Her story is told in the short film, “A New Sway,” for which I served as an advisor. The film is part of TakeCare, a national initiative that offers practical tools to help people improve their own health and well-being through messages embedded in inspirational short films.
Many of us find ourselves putting others’ needs before our own at some point in our lives, whether raising our children, caring for aging family members, or caring for others in our professional lives.
What Happens When We Lose Our Balance
Arma adored her husband. She loved how healthy he was and that he surfed and ran. She wasn’t active. She wasn’t raised to be. She developed diabetes and her doctor simply gave her medication to take. She didn’t make any lifestyle changes. When her husband became sick with dementia and required nearly constant care, Arma said she “shutdown.”
Caring for others is a noble act, but it can cause us to neglect ourselves, and that is exactly what Arma did. For her own well-being, Arma desperately needed to find some way to make her feel good again, to restore her spirit and recover her pono.
Making Time for Ourselves
For Arma, the key to rediscovering her pathway and putting her health first turned out to be hula. Learning her culture’s traditional dance alongside fellow Native Hawaiian women opened a new chapter in her life. It helped Arma connect to herself and to something greater. Because of the cultural significance of the dance, she was able to feel confident about her identity. Hula provided a fun way to be physically active, while also making deep new connections with her “hula sisters,” several of whom shared her same life issues.
I strongly recommend anyone who struggles with balancing their health with their sense of responsibility to care for others to look inward and reflect on what may help fulfill their own needs. Whether it’s meditation, a cultural activity, or even just some quiet time alone, having an outlet that allows us to focus on ourselves helps us remember that our needs are important too.
Asking for Help
One fundamental way to take care of ourselves is to ask for help. Communicate early and often about your needs to your partner, friends, or even the person you’re caring for. Let that person (or a fellow caretaker) know that it’s important for your own health and well-being to always find some time for yourself. I tell my patients if they have five minutes to use the bathroom, they can also find five minutes to get fresh air, stretch, or pull out a crossword puzzle – whatever helps you take a step back to breathe!
It may feel scary or selfish to look inward and really think about our own needs – especially if we are unaccustomed to doing so – but at the end of the day, caring for ourselves helps us better care for others. Just as Arma learned how hula could help improve her health and well-being, we all can find an outlet that feels fulfilling and returns pono to our lives.
You can read this blog on TakeCare.
Keawe Kaholokula, PhD, served as a medical advisor on the film “A New Sway” as part of The Healthy US Collaborative’s TakeCare initiative. He is a licensed clinical psychologist and is currently the Chair of Native Hawaiian Health in the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa.