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  • Writer's pictureJayne Hill

Build Better Balance

I can’t balance! That’s what I hear after every yoga class. In many ways it’s not a surprise. Once we’re all grown up we don’t play with balancing like we used to do as kids. Not until you get to yoga class anyway. But is balance really that important? It seems that it is.

Latest research tells us that better balance is linked to living a longer, healthier life. I’m sure that will motivate you to work on your balance. Here are ideas to get you started.

Can you balance on one leg for 10 seconds?

The study asked people to ‘stand on one leg with their other leg pressed against it, arms by their sides, eyes fixed straight ahead’. You get three attempts. People who could stand there for 10 seconds were more likely to live to a healthy older age. It doesn't explain if it needs to be with both legs or if one will do. Let's aim for both to be sure.

Other indicators for healthy older age include being able to get up from the floor to a standing position, balance with one eye closed or simply walk at a brisk pace.

You need to practice to balance better

The best way to improve your balance is to… practice balancing. Those big supporting muscles in thighs and buttocks are not there just to be cushions for you to sit on. They only get stronger if you use them.

Take a couple of minutes every day to stand on one leg at a time. Weave the balancing into something you already do regularly so it’s easy to remember and build a habit. For example, balance when you’re brushing your teeth or waiting for the kettle to boil.

Practice without judging yourself. All balancing is useful – whatever the opinion might be of the grumpy voice in your head. Each time you balance, your nervous system learns. It’s understanding where you are in relation to gravity and the adjustments that it needs to make to keep you stable and upright. Getting cross is counterproductive too. Chasing your balance can be like trying to hold on tighter to wet soap!

Your joints should sense where you are (they are proprioceptors) but often they can’t do their job. When you wear shoes (especially with a heel, no matter how small) or when you walk and stand on flat, hard ground all the time, they get no sensory feedback about where you are. They’re just sending a message - ‘no information to report’. It’s no wonder our balance starts to wobble away.

If you’re struggling…

Make balancing easier

  • Bare feet feel the floor better than wearing socks.

  • You can feel the floor and adjust your balance better in socks than in shoes.

  • Stand on a firm flat floor until you’re more confident.

  • Keep a little more of one foot on the floor – just lift your heel on one side.

  • Keep both feet on the floor but stand with one heel touching the toes of the other foot like you're on a tightrope (it’s surprisingly tricky!)

  • Have something to hold close by (window sill, sturdy chair, table) in case you wobble too much. But don’t start your balance holding on. Your nervous system won’t learn if you’re already leaning on support.

  • Don’t take it too seriously. Children can teach us a lot about balance. Your tight jaw, frowning eyes and clenched fists all get tangled up in with the pathway in your brain for ‘balance’. They become part of what you body understands to be balance. You don’t need all the tension. It uses more energy than necessary making balancing harder work. Shake everything out before you have another go. Or maybe try again tomorrow.

Is a ten second balance a breeze for you? Change it up…

Challenge your balance

  • Rest your gaze in a different place – ground, eye level, upwards.

  • Move your gaze (slowly) from side to size or up and down.

  • Move your head.

  • Move your leg and your arms – make it a dynamic balance.

  • Close one eye.

  • Close both eyes (but make sure you have plenty of space around you).

  • Change the surface – a foam block, cushion, folded blanket, grass, deep carpet, slope, wobble board, half foam roller.

  • Balance on a beam (a plank of wood, kerb in a quiet car park)

Functional big toe joints

Mobile big toes are essential for stable balance.

Try this sitting or standing to build toe mobility and strength. Bet you never thought you'd be reading that sentence today.

Here’s to your stability and a long and healthy life!

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