Why Losing Your Balance Is Good For You
My balance isn’t good enough to…. (insert challenging yoga pose or complicated exercise move here).
I spend most of my time working in physical therapy and yoga studios and hear this statement at least once a day. And every time I do, I have to shake my head in disagreement. If this sounds like you, I'll tell you what I always tell my clients: "You are all good enough and totally capable to practice with what you already have."
So whether it's finding your way into that yoga pose, or getting your footing in the exercise you don't think you're capable of doing, I assure you that your overall balance will improve as a result. All you have to do is try!
Here are some great reasons to start exploring and challenging your balance right now:
1. As we age our balance declines.
Many of us are well-aware of the recommendations for cardiovascular training and maintaining muscular strength for optimum health. But maintaining good balance is just as important. Poor balance can lead to a whole host of problems, including falls.
Particularly in older age, once a fall occurs, it can have a downward spiral effect on your health, and there is a high chance you will fall again, increasing your likelihood for further injury. As you age, your bones become weaker and the healing and recovery process takes longer.
Worse, you can develop a fear of falling, which leads to a fear of moving. Continuing to move is vital to your health because moving is medicine. Being able to maintain your ability to balance is key in being able to move in a functional, healthy way. Again, the only way to maintain this is by challenging your balance.
2. Losing your balance helps to improve your balance.
Your balance is controlled by three systems: vestibular, somatosensory, and visual. These three systems closely interact to keep the center of gravity over your base of support, and to keep you upright.
- The vestibular system is located in your inner ear. This complex system controls your spatial orientation, mainly the position of your head, when you are in motion, and in which direction you are moving. It also helps to maintain equilibrium. This is actually the first system to decline as you age.
- The somatosensory system receives input from the sensory organs in your skin and joints about the position of your limbs and body in space. This information travels to the brain where it is integrated with other sensory information so you can react accordingly.
- The visual system is the system you depend on the most. Since humans are visual creatures, much of our experience in the world is determined by how our brain interprets the sensory information from the visual organs. Once vision starts to worsen, particularly later in life, your ability to compensate and adapt to these changes worsens.
The process of these three systems interacting along with other factors including reaction time, cognition, and the environment allow you to react in a quick, efficient manner to the challenges your balance faces on a daily basis.
Not only does challenging your balance work these three systems, but it also helps to improve the neuromuscular connections so you will be able to react quicker. And even better, it challenges your muscles in a functional manner and this will make you stronger.
3. Maintaining your balance keeps things interesting!
If every time you stepped onto your yoga mat you were able to nail every movement or pose in the same exact way, you would not be challenging yourself to improve, and it would get very boring.
Everyday your balance is so different — sleep, diet, and fatigue all have an affect. Some days you might require more support on your mat, and the next day you might nail every movement and you feel like you’re flying. But the goal shouldn’t be about nailing a pose or doing a movement in the same way every time. Your body is working with what it has on that day, in that moment. Exploring where you are now and how to react with each movement keeps things exciting and keeps you interested.
And yes, some days you will fall and crash, and in those moments, I have found, laughing at yourself is usually the best reaction.
4. Balance is a reflection of how you react in life.
You have very little control over many things in life, including your balance, which is greatly influenced by external and environmental factors. In fact, you might lose your balance daily. But once you let go of trying to control the uncontrollable factors, you can put that energy towards the factors you actually can control.
One thing you can control is how you react — in a healthy, productive manner. If you lose your balance, and even fall, you can react by tensing up or you can try staying open and relaxed. If you react with tension, you will likely fall hard and possibly injure yourself.
But if you stay relaxed and open, you can fall soft and in the process, discover some pretty amazing things about yourself. So ask yourself, do you want to react in life with resistance, force, and stiffness, OR, do you want to react with ease and grace, and maybe even a little humor?
Everyday when you walk down the street, get on your yoga mat, or go for that run, you are relying on your balance to stay upright. It is important to keep the three systems that determine your balance healthy and working efficiently.
Next time you try that challenging pose or exercise, or whether you just close your eyes, pay attention to how you react. You have the ability to react gracefully and find your own way to balance yourself, you've got to just keep working at it!