BALANCE: The importance of maintaining (or regaining) balance
Most of us know that as we age, we tend to lose some of our ability to balance effortlessly. This loss of balance tends to creep up on us over the course of many years, and it usually isn’t until we lose our balance and fall or get injured that we understand the true importance of honing this basic human ability.
So what can we do to help us achieve and maintain better balance? Yoga. It’s not the only way of course, but the integrated system of yoga is one of the most effective ways to strengthen the body, improve mobility in our joints & improve the sensory awareness imperative to balancing on our feet.
Balance postures have a lot of practical applications and can train us to consciously and unconsciously engage the deep muscles that connect the body's many parts into a unified whole. Below are a few key factors that play into our ability to balance.
Proprioception is our ability to sense where our body is in relation to everything around us. Have you ever tripped because you didn’t lift your foot high enough to get over a bump on the sidewalk or stubbed a toe on a piece of furniture that’s always been there? These are examples of times when our proprioception has been low. This can happen because we’ve got a lot on our mind, an injury in another area of the body or even drinking too much alcohol.
While our larger, more superficial muscles (i.e. - Gluteus Maximus) are excellent at generating large and broad movements, they are ineffective at making the micro-adjustments needed for improved balance. Deep to these larger muscles we have smaller muscles (i.e. - Gluteus Medius & Piriformis) which produce a more subtle engagement closer to the bone. These smaller muscles are what really help support our joints and allow us to coordinate the many parts of the body to stand or move together. The practice of yoga teaches us to connect to and engage these very important muscles.
The reasons for maintaining or regaining our balance are numerous. Keeping us safe from injury, giving us the confidence to participate in daily activities with ease and even helping to minimize the speed of breakdown of the joints due to normal wear and tear that comes with aging.
The good news is, we can all improve our balance regardless of age, level of yoga practice or how long we’ve been practicing. Connecting to our base of support (i.e. - feet in standing balance poses) and deep stabilizing muscles, choosing balance poses that allow us to stay in them long enough to benefit, becoming more “body aware” and being patient are all important first steps.
If you’d like to learn a little about some of the stabilizing muscles mentioned above, click below to take our free online class “Yoga 101 | Stability in Standing Balance Poses”.