As a yoga teacher, I have always been acutely aware of the importance of physical balance. It helps us prevent falls as we age, it strengthens the core and the body awareness brings our mental faculties into the process. I was trained that fitness is a three pronged undertaking. You need to build the muscles with strength training, you need to build the heart with cardio or aerobic conditioning and you need to practice balance and flexibility to support the first two. Unfortunately, our society puts most of their emphasis on strength and cardio where you see the results the most quickly.
Balance exercise challenges movements and positions for the purpose of improving our ability to respond to changing physical obstacles and barriers in our environment. The results of balance exercise are an improved ability to reach, jump and control complex movements that are required for many daily activities, as well as improvement in body awareness, body alignment and the ability to engage in daily recreational activities safely. Engaging in balance exercise also improves our ability to catch ourselves from falling. Balance exercise addresses the sources of our sense of balance that include vision, the inner ear and the nerve receptors in our joints. – David Severson, PT, Milpitas Physical Therapy Clinic
My own passion about balance has come from my personal observations of my loved ones as they age. I have watched in frustration as my mother and step-father became more and more feeble and incapacitated as they aged and lost their ability to balance. The inability to balance stole their confidence in their own bodies and convinced them they were safest sitting in a chair or a bed all day, not moving. They then both got caught up in the cycle of the less they moved, the weaker their muscles became and the less they were physically capable of moving.
When we balance, we align our body’s center of gravity with the earth’s gravitational field. Quite literally, we place ourselves in physical equilibrium with a fundamental force of nature. But we can’t achieve this harmony by remaining absolutely still. Instead, we must refresh our balance moment after moment. The sustained effort to center and re-center, when successful, brings not only our flesh and bones into balance but also our nerve impulses, thoughts, emotions, and very consciousness. Hence, we feel calm. Equilibrium brings equanimity.– Roger Cole, Yoga Journal
I firmly believe that many of the decisions my parents made about their bodies and their relationship with physical movement was a matter of the times they have lived through. My mother was born in 1932 and my step-father was born in 1922. They were both shaped by the impact of the depression and the mentality that there was never enough. This emotional feeling of deprivation was then followed by the post-World War II mentality of excess. In the 1950’s and 60’s all of technology was devoted to making your life as easy as possible. So, you combine the effect of the depression where they were taught that you had to work hard because there was never enough with the effect of the post-war mentality of never needing to move if you could use technology to do it for you and you get at least two people who equated physical movement with not being successful enough to have someone or something else do it for you.
My parents were fortunate enough that for the thirty-five year period of time that they were married they could afford to pay other people to do all the physical labor for them. There were always people to take care of the yard, clean the house and repair or build anything they may have needed around the house. I am grateful they were able to live this life but I believe this life of ease did little to prepare them for the physical challenges of aging.
Balance exercise challenges movements and positions for the purpose of improving our ability to respond to changing physical obstacles and barriers in our environment. The results of balance exercise are an improved ability to reach, jump and control complex movements that are required for many daily activities, as well as improvement in body awareness, body alignment and the ability to engage in daily recreational activities safely. Engaging in balance exercise also improves our ability to catch ourselves from falling. Balance exercise addresses the sources of our sense of balance that include vision, the inner ear and the nerve receptors in our joints. – Jason Anderson, Balance Training 101
When I was a little girl there was a children’s program called “Romper Room.” A typical program featured a group of children participating in a variety of games, songs and rhymes with simple moral lessons as guided by the hostess and recurring characters. One of those recurring characters was Mr. Do Bee, an oversized bumblebee who helped teach the moral lessons (“Do Bee a good sport when you lose”). I am often reminded of this show when I am talking to my yoga classes about balance and tell them the story of my parents. It makes me sad to realize that my mother and step-father are such good examples of how to be a “Don’t Bee” but I also am grateful that I have been given such concrete examples of why working on your balance is as important a tool in healthy aging as a healthy diet.
There are many ways of working your balance each day. Try tying your shoes standing on one foot and not sitting down. When you do the dishes, stand on one foot with the other foot balanced against the calf or thigh of the leg you’re balancing on. In the shower, if the surface of the shower will safely allow it, balance on one leg while lifting the other to wash it.
Dylan Thomas wrote in the poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Working your balance on a daily basis won’t prevent you from aging. However, it can make the journey towards “that good night” a more pleasant and comfortable trip.