Imagine walking down the stairs into the foyer of a smart hotel lobby filled with people and falling over. Or rushing to your car in the rain, and falling over. What about pushing a trolley in the supermarket, losing your balance and falling over. Or perhaps slipping and falling down in your kitchen or bathroom.
Everything we do as bi-pedal humans involves a feat of balance, especially those activities that involve standing, walking or running upright.
Moving about on all fours, animals generally don’t struggle with balance. But evolution took our bodies forward that extra step (no pun intended!). Moving on only two legs is a major balancing act, especially when we are also usually carrying or hauling or working or doing something else to distract us at the same time.
The first few years of human life is all about acquiring these skills. Babies first learn to kick their legs to make them stronger, then they crawl to give them proprioception and core strength. From there, toddlers start pulling themselves upright against anything they can find. Think about table cloths being pulled off, broken ornaments, and so on!
Eventually, they learn to balance on their own two feet by standing. And finally, hesitatingly, the first steps happen. And then it just involves a lot of practice and frequent bouts of toppling over before, finally, the mastery of walking on 2 legs is achieved. We continue to do so for the rest of our life, without even thinking about it. Until we fall over!
The fear of falling is born when we start walking. For most of us, it is a traumatic and upsetting experience, especially as we get older and run the risk of ending up with a broken hip or arm.
As we grow into adults, things happen to our bodies that may disturb the balance we take for granted every day. We have all sorts of accidents and injuries, or illnesses that can impair our balance. There are conditions related to the legs, lower back or spine that may affect our balance, as well as illnesses and conditions that affect the inner ear. One of the biggest causes of impaired balance is poor posture and unhealthy movement patterns, resulting in imbalances or miss-alignments in our hips and backs. The way in which we walk, and how we position our feet on the ground to propel us forward or hold us stably upright, can also potentially have an impact on balance.
As we get older, maintaining one’s balance (or equilibrium, physical stability, or steadiness) also becomes more difficult due to the natural ageing process. Of course, there are conditions like MS or serious events like suffering a stroke, which will cause major damage to nerves and muscles, therefore causing major challenges to balance and the ability to move unaided.
The good news is that it is entirely possible to address some of these issues with a regular yoga practice. In some cases, like simply having poor posture or muscular / joint weaknesses, yoga will eventually recover the ability to balance entirely.
In more serious cases, such as following a stroke, there is no way that yoga can reverse the effects. But I do believe that an appropriate yoga practice can at least work some way to improve the symptoms, maybe giving some pain relief and allowing for some healing to take place both physically and mentally.
Balance is important in flexibility, agility and even strength. In yoga, a combination of a few different postures can work together to improve your balance. Relying on only one type of yoga exercise is not the way to go. There is not one perfect posture to miraculously improve your balance. What is required is an approach that relies on several postures and a combination of movements to build strength and balance.
Yoga for balance
Given all the above, a regular practice of yoga will definitely go a long way to improve balance. In fact, the practice of yoga itself is about gaining balance between mind and body, passive and active, hard and soft, strong and flexible. Balance embodies not only the physical, but the spiritual and emotional context of yoga. Investing in a regular practice will pay dividends in the long term. As in all things where the body is concerned, there is no quick fix solution.
But with the help of a knowledgeable yoga teacher who understands how to provide the correct support in the postures and sequences the practice appropriately for the student, the art of balancing and walking on two legs will be yours to own and enjoy well into old age.