Is your balance what it used to be? Mine isn’t. Or, at least, it wasn’t. The change started with a stumble here or there, a misplaced step or two. I’d bump into the couch or kitchen counter and started wondering if our doorframes had shrunk! I chalked it up to being tired. But even when I didn’t feel tired, I was clumsy—something I’ve never been. So, I started to pay more attention, and then I did some research. I was shocked by what I learned:
Cognitive decline relating to the ability to balance begins around age 25.
Twenty-five! Clumsy might be cute in your 20s, possibly quirky into your 30s, but moving into your 40s, it’s a little . . . disconcerting . . . Statistics show that falls are the most common cause of injury among older Canadians. I don’t know if I’m “older” yet, but I’m not waiting to join the stats to find out.
Let the training begin!
Intuitively we know the consequences of a fall can be dire. As winter approaches and sidewalks get slick, confidence in our body can wane. We shorten our stride and look down to focus on the ground ahead, which restricts our breath, which impacts our mood. Soon, the fear of falling itself can be immobilizing—and our independence takes a hit.
Talk about depressing. This is what lies ahead? This is the downward trajectory of my future?! No. I won’t accept it. Let’s see what yoga says.
In my reading, I learned that balance is a motor skill you can maintain and even regain with some dedicated effort. And the sooner you start, the better.
These 3 things are key to skillful balancing (yoga fits all the criteria!):
1. Lower Body & Core Strength
The stronger your legs, hips, and abdominals, the steadier you are on your feet. All standing postures increase lower body strength and endurance. Consider holding Warrior B for a few minutes! Longer holds against the weight of the body build stamina and endurance while improving flexibility. The flexibility and coordination developed in yoga help to prevent potential slips.
When the bones and joints are stacked optimally, our foundation is more stable and balance requires less effort. Out of alignment, though, our body has to adjust to meet the demands made by gravity on a foreign position, without any structural support. Optimal strength is achieved when our body can move as it's designed to. Good alignment improves muscle performance, which translates to power, which feeds back into #1—increased strength.
I was surprised to see this in the top three, but I don't know why; it’s so obvious. You wouldn’t try walking on a balance beam while sipping coffee and gabbing away with friends. If you’re driving to a new place after dark and you can’t find the address, what do you do? You turn off the radio and lean in. You focus.
Just like navigating foreign roads becomes easier each time around, so it is with balance. Science tells us that the brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity (its ability to grow and adapt to change, even among those of “older” age) is activated with repetition. In other words: practise. The rewards we reap are equal and proportionate to the effort that we put in. Tree Pose gets easier over time, with one catch: you need to do it.
Images from Tummee.com
When I incorporated these principles into my life DAILY, my balance improved fivefold. I'm not clumsy anymore. Check out these variations on Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3) for inspiration. You can print out the sequence and hang it somewhere as a reminder. For an additional challenge, try doing a posture with your eyes closed!
Practise, practise, practise and above all else, be patient with yourself! There’s no room for judgement in yoga.