I have a new respect for balance.

Eating a balanced diet, balancing work and home, a balanced mind is a sane mind, the yin and yang of it all, I understand, but being balanced in the physical, being able to stand up on two legs without falling down, this I took for granted.

We are not born with this; first we need to develop enough muscle strength to support a whole body on two tiny points of contact with the Earth, and then we learn how to balance on these little feet at the cost of falling down a lot.

Mostly, these falls result in tears of fear or frustration easily wiped away by parental comfort, encouragement and kisses. Sometimes falling down hurts. Sometimes there is even blood involved. Occasionally something breaks.

But that doesn’t stop us. We get up and do it again. Some of us learn to balance on a bike, even after the training wheels come off.

I learned to ski by falling down, again and again and again, and then I stopped worrying about falling down and actual skiing began to be possible.

I also remember laughing a whole lot as I lay sprawled akimbo on the bunny slope’s snowy surface as experienced and balanced 4- and 5-year-old tykes whizzed by my head.

Walking, bike riding and skiing, among other activities that pleasure the body, were much more fun and a whole lot safer without the falling down part. And with practice, the necessary neural pathways etched into my brain and I learned to fall less and less.

I became so good at this balance stuff that I grew to think of myself as sure-footed, physically capable, even graceful, if I bothered to think about it at all.

“What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs at night?” asks the riddle of the Sphinx.

Ancient answer: Man/woman (from infant to adult to old age).

Modern answer: Me. For the time being, at least.

Including my cane, I walk on three legs. For me, for now, the cane is a temporary aid while I complete my healing from hip replacement surgery.

During this last while, I have had a lot of time to think about the difference between being old in years and old in body, and I have concluded that it is a matter of physical balance: use it or lose it.

Try this: while standing without holding onto anything, raise one leg and see what happens. The hope is that doing this is no big deal, and you are still upright.

Now try this same balancing act with eyes closed. Not so easy.

Remember when you were little and were required to hold someone’s hand crossing the street, and there was always some annoying adult insisting that you hold onto the railing on stairs and escalators?

If you were like I was, you probably took all the risks you could. As soon as I was on my own, or no one was watching, I would bound up and down the stairs, no hands, and often jump over the last one or two.

Looking back, I wonder: When did “shouldn’t” become “couldn’t”?

How long ago did I develop my fear of falling? And where do I go, and what do I need to do to regain my balance and find the courage to hold off being old?

I have been given a second chance. As a wise woman recently explained, it gets easier because I have entered the time in my Sphinx-journey where exercising moves from a “should do” to a “must do.”

By spring, I will stand on one leg with my eyes closed, because I believe I must.

Thanks to all for your wishes for my speedy recovery.

Elissa Garde-Joia is a certified clinical hypnotherapist sharing creative strategies for conscious and intentional living through her writings, classes and private practice in Belfast. Please share stories, comments and questions at elissagardejoia@gmail.com.