What throws us off balance? Distraction, stress, anxiety, fatigue, persistent pain, even hunger and thirst can influence how steady we are. And changes to our vision, feet, muscle mass can compound our balance issues as we age. Falls can have serious consequences for our independence and well-being. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injury for adults ages 65 years or older.
But let’s not wait on addressing our balance challenges. Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialists Sava Papos and Rachel Land bust balance myths in a recent podcast.
Here are a few.
MYTH - Balance training is just for old people.
Absolutely not! Develop skills early. Future proof your balance with a mix of balance challenges. Yoga emphasizes visual focus (Drishti), slow and steady transitions shifting our base of support, and connection to our feet – all in a fairly distraction-free environment.
MYTH – Balance is an inherent ability. You’re either good at it or not.
Wrong. Balance changes based on our external environment and our internal state.
Three systems involved in balance are visual, vestibular, and somatosensory. We rely on vision the most. The vestibular system of the inner ear detects body position and movement. The somatosensory system causes the perceptions of changes in pressure, temperature, and where the body is in space. This is also known as proprioception.
Let's change our mindset about stability. When we test our balance, for example, stepping side to side, front to back, one leg lifted, etc., the felt instability - the wobble, the pertubations, the fidgeting - means we're training our stability. It's okay; in fact, it's necessary.
MYTH – Good balance is all about the core.
In fact, ankle mobility and hip stability are key contributors.
How do we do work on balance in yoga? A varied movement diet! Here are some ideas:
Balance on a bolster.
Change your gaze while doing standing postures. For example, look forward and then backward while doing Warrior II (virabhadrasana II).
Place a block under one hand when on all fours to stretch the boundaries of stability.
Close your eyes (for a moment) when practicing tree (vrikshasana).
Explore feet together while standing in mountain (tadasana) versus feet apart. Do you feel sturdier with a wider base? Most people do.
Use blocks to enhance your base of support when stepping back into low lunge.
Soften the rigidity of balance feeling your changing center of gravity.
Play with balance!