Body Balance “Use it or lose it”

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  “Use it or lose it’

As you get older your balance decreases, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Balance is often neglected and not appreciated and if we don’t use it or maintain it, we lose it. 25% of falls among older people are caused by poor balance.

If you improve your balance you will see lots of other benefits, such as better coordination, posture, more ease in movement, being more alert, increased capacity to breathe, more energy, being more present, less fearful and prone to injury.

So, what interferes with balance, and how does balance deteriorate?

Here are some of the most common reasons; excessive tension, getting older, lack of exercise, gravity, lack of awareness, injury and sedentary culture.

These are some solutions, suggestions for improving and restoring your balance.

There are many parts of the body that help to maintain balance, but the principle mechanism for balance are the vestibular sensors in the ears.

The vestibular sensors in both ears are designed to keep the body aligned over the centre of gravity.  Have you ever had a bash in the ear, or you spin around, this upsets the balancing mechanisms causing you to feel dizzy, equally if the head is well balanced on top of the spine in such a way, that head is going upwards relative to the spine and the spine is lengthening; this facilitates optimal balance in the spine and ear sensors.

Proprioception (body position awareness), and vision are equally important, these parts work together, contributing equally or relying more on one system or two, to keep us stable and balanced.

Your eyes tell you how our body is oriented with the ground. They help you stay upright. You only have to close your eyes to appreciate the importance of vision; most of us start to sway ever so slightly. Try closing your eyes and lift one foot off the ground; you’ll appreciate the stabilising effect of vision.

The feet are often overlooked but also play an essential part in balance.

Footwear is often about fashion rather than comfort or support.

Most peoples shoes are too small or pointed, with heels that are too high, shoes need to be foot shaped.

Practice being present with your feet, we live predominately in our heads, when you get present with your feet you are more grounded, supported, balanced and present in your body, you will discover your connection to the surface of the earth.  I love to walk on the grass, the earth, the ground with my shoes off, whenever and wherever possible, by doing this you take the negative charge from the earth, which is really healthy,  healing, balancing and energising.

Challenge Your Balance.

If you are a regular walker, try walking on rough terrain, take advantage of it to challenge your balance. Frank Forencich, an exercise expert and human biologist says: “Every little rock, every uneven root, every slippery patch of moss…boosts the detection of tactile signals. It wakes up the sensory nervous system and makes your body smarter.”

Click on picture below to see how beneficial it is to walk on the Earth.

One-legged standing exercises are some of the most effective and challenging; doing it while keeping your body still, relies mainly on proprioceptors in your feet, ankles, and legs to maintain balance.

Balance on one foot at every opportunity; for example, while shaving or brushing your teeth, standing or waiting somewhere. This will develop your proprioception, which is your sense register which gives you a sense of space, balance, orientation and equilibrium.

Closing the eyes makes it harder, challenging more receptors. The vestibular system kicks in only if you struggle to stay still- again wobbling is good, because it wakes up all the stabilising muscles.

Falls or injuries will create a mindset where we will avoid exercising, which limits movement, resulting in inactivity, stiffness, being fearful. This eventually decline is so evident in elderly people; wonder how they became so tight and stiff. Often it was a minor fall that started this decline.


2 comments

  • Franis Engel

    October 9, 2020 at 2:53 am

    I believe that balance goes away because, as we get older, we decide it is necessary and justified to “protect ourselves” after an injury or other physical limitation. It is tempting to take too far to extremes those postural responses and reactions that have worked for us in the past – without realizing what we’re doing to ourselves. We “train” ourselves to go to these extremes. More isn’t necessarily “better.”
    I’m elderly now – needing a knee replacement because of a medical procedure as an infant. Wondering what the effect would be, I transferred my center of balance to my “good” leg. After doing this, I couldn’t balance on rocks when I went to the beach because my center of balance was now reset toward one side. When I realized what had happened, here’s what I did to regain my balance:
    I decided the problem was I was looking down, trying to supervise what my feet were doing. This was making me lose my balance because my head was hanging over the front of my body. I realized I could use Alexander Technique to stop this habit of walking by falling forward. But I needed a way to practice to reset my balance to factual balance.
    I got a couple of hiking poles for safety. I mounted a head lamp on top of a brim. I chose a place to walk that was uneven, a hole-infested hiking trail covered by mowed grass. This meant the shadow of the brim hid my sight of what was immediately in front of my feet. I let my eyes sweep ahead 10 feet, trusting that “my feet will know where to go” to balance myself – making sure my body was underneath my head. (…As opposed to my protective habit of sticking my neck out forward.) Of course, to “over ride” this experiment on the fly, all I had to do was to light up my own feet if I deemed it “necessary.” So there was a built-in “safety return” to my old way of supervising my feet if I got frightened.
    After 30 days of this three times a week daring to walk without looking at my feet, my balance re-oriented back to more of where my body was factually centered.
    Now I can again balance on rocks so I can go to swim at the beach!!
    BTW, I have been practicing Alexander Technique for a few decades. At 66, I have not lost any height. Hope that continues indefinitely!

    Reply

    • Nicholas Brandon

      October 9, 2020 at 8:08 am

      Dear Franis

      Thank you for you comment.
      I can hear how much the Alexander Technique has helped you for many years.
      I still find it so simple yet so remarkable how the head balance is so critical in determining overall balance and coordination of the body.
      When we are aware we can more readily play with balance in a more creative way, Particularly, as you mention you have to shift weight because of the knee operation.
      I think the key is to listen to the body, so work in playing with shifting the weight into the better leg and see how it feels.
      Great to hear you have not lost any height from practicing the ALexander Technique and it helps you to do the things you love with more freedom. poise, joy and ease. The AT is such a wonderful skill for life and aging gracefully and playfully. I hope the knee operation goes well. Best wishes Nick

      Reply

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