A Workout to Improve Balance

Dear Sarah,

After reading your post on using the mini trampoline for a great workout, it got me thinking about my own balancing act. I notice during my flow class (mind/body program which combines yoga, tai chi and pilates, all set to music) that I lack stability during the balancing part. I always attributed this to having a high centre of gravity since I am more than 6 feet tall.

Are there any exercises that focus on tuning up balance?

Thank you,
Sam

Dear Sam,

Everyone has to find their own balancing act. Some days are better than others, and one side of your body may be better at it than the other. I have a yoga teacher who often says that she falls over for a living!

Balancing is an all-day activity, both unconsciously (standing in line at the store, walking to your car, climbing stairs; and consciously (maintaining your balance when struck by a gust of wind or holding yourself up on a bumpy bus ride). Your ability to balance depends on how well your bones and muscles work together, and how quickly your mind reads the signals for your body to stay stable.

Developing your balance has many benefits including improved physical and mental co-ordination and developed poise and concentration. You will strengthen the lower body, abdominals, lower back muscles as well as the stabilizing muscles around the joints and connective tissue.

In order to work on your balance I suggest you go bare foot, either on the floor or a yoga mat. The number one pose for working on your balance comes from yoga and is called Tree Pose or Vrksasana in Sanskrit (the official language of yoga).

To set up Tree Pose, it is first important to take the time to put your body in Mountain Pose (Tadasana, Sanskrit). This pose is the foundation of all standing yoga poses.

Mountain Pose
The feel of the pose:
Feel your body erect and lifted, relaxed. You are quiet and strong, of heaven and earth with a calm inner power and strength. You are grounded to the earth and soaring like an eagle.

• Eye gaze is calm and set at a fixed point.
• Relax your face and jaw, and calm your mind.
• Use a soft steady breath to develop focus and awareness.
• Use ground forces to help stabilize yourself.
• Feel your feet connected to the floor, weight in all four corners of your feet.
• Legs are strong and active creating a strong base.
• Soften your lower ribs, and lengthen the spine, lifting up and out of your waist.
• Your shoulders draw down into a soft ‘V’.
• Head is floating on top of the spine.
• Arms are down by your side, palms facing forward.

Tree Pose (see first image)
The feel of the pose: Imagine you are standing calmly in the eye of the storm. You are grounded, yet growing, legs and torso like the trunk of a tree; your arms are the branches.

• Stand straight with your feet together in mountain pose.
• Pour all of your weight into your left foot, toes spread wide.
• Bend your right knee out to the side and place the sole of your right foot above or below the knee or place the toes down on the floor for more support (not on the knee joint.)
• Stand very straight, firm the belly and level the hip.
• Press your right foot into your left thigh as you stretch upward.
• Place your hands together at your heart centre, draw your shoulders down your back.
• Breathe as you hold your posture, keep your chin level with the floor, left knee rotating outwards, tailbone dropped, your standing foot pressed firmly into the ground and the eyes focused straight ahead. With your breath keep your tree growing long, energy shooting down through your supporting leg and out through the crown of the head.

Option: Raise your arms above your head once you have your balance, shoulder width apart, with your palms facing together, spread your fingers right down to the webbing.

Variations:
• Supported tree: place one hand on the wall to steady yourself.
• Willow tree: arms over head, torso leans to the side.
• Standing half lotus pose: foot to groin/upper thigh. Hold with opposite hand. Press your knee down, squeeze your legs and buttocks and release the arms over head.

A low tree pose can be done anytime, and almost anywhere. No one will notice if you place your foot on your opposite ankle or calf while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting for the subway.

Sarah Brown is a very healthy woman. She is not only a fitness instructor at Goodlife where she teaches Body Pump, Body Flow and yoga but she is also a registered holistic nutritionist. If you have a question for Sarah, leave a comment below and she will try and help, but note that not all questions will be answered.

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