Nearly all of my yoga classes have specific poses and movements integrated to help improve balance. Many participants find this part of the class challenging, especially if they haven’t been in a while or their mind is distracted. I believe that this aspect of my classes is essential for developing skills to support a good sense of balance.
External threats to balance
The world is a playground of obstacles that interfere with the body’s equilibrium, messing with our balance. It’s easy to lose footing on wet surfaces, uneven ground, unexpected steps, and moving floors. Add to that the constant bombardment of external forces: moving through jostling crowds, or a sudden big wave at the beach. As we navigate our environment, these disruptions often go unnoticed as the body is able to react quickly and regain balance.
Internal threats to balance
There are many factors that can result in a failure to respond appropriately — besides lack of attention — such as inner ear problems, muscle degeneration/inaction, high/low blood pressure, arthritis, and more. The repercussions can vary from mild embarrassment to a serious injury.
Muscular weakness, unresponsiveness, and pain can all interfere with the body’s ability to react quickly. When balance is challenged, the correct muscles must be prepared to engage quickly and counteract external forces.
The body uses three sources of sensory input to maintain balance:
Visual – Relying on sight to determine surroundings and navigate while moving.
Vestibular – Equilibrium, when the body is calm, centred and steady; Sensing the body’s orientation in relation to gravity; Identifying direction and speed of movement.
Proprioception – Spatial awareness; Knowing where your body (head, trunk, limbs) is in relation to itself and the environment; The ability to make automatic postural adjustments in order to regain and maintain stability.
It is possible for ageing bodies to maintain and improve balance
Instability can become a serious problem for elderly people, because injury potentially leads to illness. Even worse, declining health following an accident can be fatal.
As the body ages, the visual and vestibular aspects of balance are likely to deteriorate, but proprioception can be preserved. Therefore, the strengthening and mobility work we do now — and continue to do in later years — will be greatly beneficial to preserve our sense of balance.
Improving stability in a standing position
Standing with feet stacked beneath hips, bring a little softness to the knees (“unlock”). This creates more buoyancy and prepares the body to react.
Bring attention to your feet, then spread toes and let them land lightly. Feel where the weight drops into the soles. Is the weight more into the balls and toes, or back into heels? Rock forward and back until you feel the weight evenly distribute from front to back.
Notice now whether your weight is pressing into the outer edge of your feet or rolling towards the insteps. Could you feel a sense of lifting upwards from both the outer edges and the insteps of your feet?
Now try closing your eyes. Allow your body to sway forward, back, side to side. Try to regain the feeling of centredness in the soles of your feet. Slowly let your attention travel upwards, and observe how your body arranges itself. Do you feel balanced, front to back, side to side?
Could you bring this awareness to all your standing yoga postures? How do you think it might improve balance, strength, stability and endurance?
Yoga poses and movements to improve balance
In the video at the top of the page, I’ve filmed some short sequences of challenging standing balance poses. Optional use of a yoga block. You could choose the ones you want to develop and practise them in repetition. Or, you could slow down the movements, then try them with your eyes closed.
If you look closely, you can see that I’ve built up a sweat. I repeated these a few times until I got them right for the video. It’s quite a workout, particularly if you move very slowly! I can really feel my glutes firing.
Tell me – what is your experience like? Do you feel wobbly or steady? Do you have to keep putting your foot down? Is it easier or harder with a yoga block? Please share in the comments below!