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Balancing acts

Balancing postures are one of my favourite groups of yoga postures to practice and I know many of you love them too.

Balancing in tree posture

Balancing in tree posture

There are many benefits to practicing balances, and we try to put some sort of balance in every class, though they can be a challenge. You probably find too, that sometimes your balance is brilliant and other times you’ve all on staying upright on 2 feet let alone 1 foot! So I thought I’d use my next series of blogs to explore balances – why they are good for us and how we can improve our technique.

Now is a great time to work on improving your balance too. If you’ve read my last posts you’ll know that balance can be more challenging during autumn, so we’ve been including plenty of balance work in our classes, to keep us grounded during this windy season. We are also heading into the icy season, so balance is doubly important! In the UK falls and mobility problems are the most common causes of referrals to GPs and A&E, whilst falls are the most common cause of death in the over 75s.

The first thing to remember about balance is that it takes regular practice. Think of your balance like a muscle, if you want it to get stronger you have to use it. You need to regularly put your body in balancing situations, which tells your brain that balancing is a useful skill to have. Our bodies and brains are very clever at adapting to our lifestyles and if we do not use our sense of balance then the brain quite literally starts to shut off the neural connections in the cerebellum (part of the brain that deals with balance), because it sees the balance function as a waste of energy. Our ability to balance also starts to naturally deteriorate after the age of 40, which means you have to work a bit harder too to maintain the function.

The next important point to remember is that movement requires balance, sitting doesn’t! So, yes, you have to move.

To balance, we use many of the body’s functions. We use our eyes to help us gauge what is level (which is why it’s harder to balance when we close our eyes, but this helps you use your muscles better as you can’t rely on sight). Our inner ears are also involved (ear infections often cause vertigo and you may have noticed when you have a cold that it’s harder to balance). We also need strong ankles and feet, along with good use of the arches of the feet, strength in a variety of muscles such as the gluteals, adductors and core postural muscles. There also needs to be efficient nerve functioning. So, there’s plenty we can work on to help us stay stable and yoga is such a good way to tick all those boxes.

I’m going to leave you now with a little exercise to help you bring strength and mobility to the feet :

  1. Sit or stand (try both) in bare feet, with a towel in placed just in front of the toes.

  2. Using your toes, keeping the heels on the floor, grab a piece of the towel with your toes and draw it towards you, then release.

  3. Repeat this grab, drag and release movement (keep the heels on the floor to make sure you are using your toes and strengthening the arches of the feet), for as long as you want!

  4. Practice this at least once a day.

It might sound or feel odd, but honestly give it a try and I promise you will soon notice a difference in the mobility of your feet and with a bit of luck it you will also start to feel other improvements.

Until next time, take care and stay upright. Ix

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