“Balance in the body is the foundation for balance in life.” B.K.S. Iyengar.
I want to kick things off by looking at the importance of physical balance. Good balance helps reduce the risk of injury, improves posture, mood, core strength and coordination, and one’s ability to balance can be a health and life expectancy predictor.
Following on from last week’s theme of interconnection, let me highlight what’s going on in the body when trying to balance.
“When you attempt the one leg balance, your brain is performing a remarkable amount of coordination. It integrates signals coming from the fluid in your inner ears, visual cues from eyes, and even feedback from your joints and muscles.”
Balance & Health...
Around the age of 35/40, we start to lose the ability to stay upright, and our ability to balance deteriorates as we become older. Being on our feet and interacting with our environment helps with our balance, and as people live more sedentary lifestyles nowadays, it is detrimental to our balancing skills. Therefore, with each generation, our balance seems to be getting worse.
“It has been shown that how well you can stand on one leg can be a powerful predictor of how long you will live and how healthy you will be. In 1999, researchers did three simple tests on 2,760 men and women in their 50s. They measured… and timed how long the volunteers could stand on one leg with their eyes closed… Those who stood for two seconds or less on the earlier test were three times more likely to have died over the next 13 years than those who managed ten seconds or more. “
When we are challenging our balance, we are multi-tasking and relying on integrating different body systems, making our brains work harder. Therefore, when you do things that cause you to wobble physically, you are helping your cognition, which has a knock-on effect helping prevent/slow down chances of dementia.
“Our brain’s balance system has an incredible capacity to compensate by making new nerve connections. It is the plasticity of our brains that enables us to stay upright beyond our 40s.”
“The trick is to keep wobbling. Every time you practise the one-leg stance, it is an opportunity to recalibrate your brain, forming new connections and strengthening the coordination between your ears, eyes, joints and muscles.”
“Yoga is the dance of every cell with the music of every breath that creates inner serenity and harmony.” Debasish Mridha.
Balance & Yoga...
Balance is a massive component of yoga, and it has a 360 approach; balance of breath, thoughts, energy and physical movement. Within the library of postures, there is a vast array of different poses to challenge your balance in multiple ways. Standing, seated, on hands, on forearms, upside down, sideways on, every way you could balance, there is likely to be a yoga posture that explores it.
The great thing about balancing is that with practice, you will get better. You can build up from basic balancing foundational postures to more advanced, complex postures. The journey won’t always be linear, and continuous practice is key for improvement. Also, with yoga balances, you get the bonuses of building your strength and improving your flexibility and mobility.
As you read earlier, putting yourself in hard to balance positions is good for you, so don’t be afraid to wobble; embrace the wobble, knowing that it’s beneficial for your body, mind, overall health, and longevity. With that said, also try to enjoy those more challenging postures where you feel off-balance instead of beating yourself up when you can’t hold the pose so successfully.
Then when you get good at a particular balance, try a harder variation. And explore all the different types of balances, so your approach is all-encompassing; for example, if you’re able to do standing balances well, try learning some arm balances to help even out your strengths and weaknesses.
Imbalance Off The Mat...
Just as you improve your physical balance by doing the thing you cannot yet do, you too can improve your ability to stabilise yourself mentally and emotionally by leaning into those unbalanced moments in life. Life will never remain neutral and completely harmonious; moments of imbalance are unavoidable; therefore, isn’t it wiser to get better at riding that inevitable wobbly wave? So start learning to become more comfortable with being off balance in life, not just on the mat. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help you with this.
If we always avoid things out of our comfort zone (where we feel wobbly or not in control), it limits our growth and can even contribute to physical and mental decline. A balance of healthy stressors and challenges are good for you. For example, going for a run puts physical stress on the body, but it keeps the cardiovascular system healthy. Likewise, having a lot on your plate but finding ways to deal with it all or getting through something difficult can build strength of character, make you wiser and help you grow in other ways.
Imbalance is your new best friend.