Why is cultivating one legged balance important as you age? The number one reason for on balancing on one leg is to prevent falls and potential injury which keep you from living your life the way you want to. Preventing falls isn’t just important for elderly adults, but matters for everyone. Falls can lead to soft tissue injury and sometimes fractures. If you want to stay active and engaged in your life, you need to avoid falls. Cultivating balance won’t 100% guarantee that you will never fall, but it improves your chances.
What is Balance?
Balance is your ability to adapt to instability and unevenness in order to remain upright. You adapt to uneven surfaces under your feet, to changes in heights when taking stairs, and to small shifts of weight within your body as you move. The better your adaptability to these changes, the easier it is to remain upright. Balance is supported by vision, strength, flexibility, and calm. Here’s how:
Seeing what’s in front of you helps your balance tremendously. If you stand on one leg and close your eyes, you will notice how important vision is for balance. While it is possible to balance with your eyes closed, it’s significantly more challenging. In yoga your Gaze is called Drishti, which is your optical focus. Focusing the eyes on one place helps anchor your ability to balance. Moving your eyes around while standing on one leg makes it harder to balance.
When your focus shifts, it affects your proprioception. When you keep your eyes still, it helps create better stillness in the rest of the body. Yoga poses, like Tree pose and Half Moon help you cultivate your standing balance. Moving from one pose to another may require changing the Drishti to a new location which can increase the balance challenge.
Strength supports your stability. The stronger your ankles, glutes, quads, and core, the more support you have when you stand on one leg. Being able to press your foot firmly into the floor and lift the pelvis away from the thigh gives you the stability you need for balancing. You want strength for stability without rigidity. More discussion of this concept in a bit.
Flexibility, especially in the feet and ankles, helps create a stable foundation. Spreading the toes widens your base and gives you more surface area to stand on. Flexibility in the ankle allows you to adapt to the small shifts of weight while standing on one leg. No one is perfectly still when they stand on one leg, and flexibility increases your adaptability to those subtle shifts of weight.
When the mind is racing, it’s difficult to maintain your visual and mental focus, and you will fall over. Working on balance encourages you to work on your inner calm. When the mind races, you are no longer present in your body and you lose connection to what is happening in the moment. When you can breathe slowly and bring the mind into focus, you can settle into your body and find the stability you need for balance. Working on balance helps you slow down and work toward inner and outer stillness.
Balance of Strength and Ease
As I mentioned earlier, balance is found by finding the happy medium between strength and ease. You need enough strength to create stability, but you also need ease so that there is no rigidity in the standing leg. If the leg is too rigid, you lose your adaptability. If the leg is too relaxed, you lose your stability. The equality between strength and ease gives you the best chance at balancing on one leg.
Practicing one legged balance is something you can do throughout the day, not just in yoga class.
Practice standing on one leg while brushing your teeth or if you have a standing desk. Start to cultivate the connection of your foot against the floor, spreading your toes and lifting upward through the quads and glutes. Lifting through the pelvic floor and lower abdominals helps too.
Notice what is happening in your mind. Can you keep it relaxed while you stand? Let go of the worry about falling over and just balance for as long as you can. When you tip over, regain your composure and try again. You don’t “lose points” for losing your balance, it’s all just practice. Plus, there are no points. The more you practice, the easier it gets, and the more stability you will feel on your feet while moving through your day.
If you would like to add balance work to your day, join me online for yoga classes! Click here to see my full schedule of online and on demand yoga classes for all levels!
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