In Yoga Asana, balance poses are an ingenious way of challenging oneself both on a physical and mental level. However, there are many systems involved in balancing if we take a closer look.
The ability to balance depends upon sensory, muscular and motor systems as well as the vestibular system of the inner ear. Proprioceptive information which informs the body’s position in space enters visually, through the tiny little levels of the vestibular system, and through skin, joint and muscle receptors. Input from tactile, pressure and vibrational changes are necessary to stand, walk and detect the body’s relationship to gravity. The extrinsic and intrinsic muscles of the foot, meaning the muscles that begin in the shin and foot respectively create a ping-pong ball effect of support all over the body through these receptors to maintain a direct point of balance with gravity. In other words, balance is a series of falls and catches over and over again.
In many cases, falls are caused by a loss of balance or the inability to maintain the body’s center of gravity over its base of support. Strengthening the body’s balance centers will prepare your body for avoiding bad falls. Here are some things you can do to strengthen along with yoga asana poses like tree pose, half-moon, and warrior three.
-Write the alphabet with your foot: With the foot in the air, write the alphabet with your foot. Try to reach all the edges of space with your toes, not to cut any letters short. This will maintain a full, dynamic range of motion of the ankle.
-Balance on one foot: Sometimes known as “storking” in physical therapy lingo. Prepare your arch by grounding all four corners of the foot and lifting the inner arch. Balance until your ankle gets tired. Increase difficulty by swinging your arms, closing your eyes, or a combination of both! This helps the coordination of the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the foot, as well as challenging your visual input.
-Theraband: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched and use a stretchy band around the ball of the foot to add resistance to pointing your toes- try a set of 15. Then place the theraband around the pinky edge of the foot and do three reps of 8 times pressing your foot out to the side (or pronating). These are important muscles to reinforce because in common sprains, the weakened ligaments are on the outside ankle.
-Toe scrunches with towel: Strengthen the transverse arch of your foot, the arch that runs crossways just beneath all 5 toes. Sit in a chair with a towel under your foot, scrunch the toes and the transverse arch repeatedly pulling the towel towards you. This strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the foot.
-Self – care: Massage the entire length of the shin, just outside of the shin bone beginning at the top all the way to the ankle. Massage the full length of the calf all the way to the Achilles tendon and give that tendon some love by squeezing it. Massage the outside edge of your shin from the top all the way to the ankle. This is especially helpful if you work on your feet and/or wear uncomfortable shoes all day.
-Raise the legs: Lie on your back and lift your legs up the wall at the end of a long day. This allows the flow of blood to release from pooling at the ankles will reduce swelling, and increase neuromuscular efficiency of the lower leg.
An architect or contractor would agree that the most important part of a building is the foundation. Give your feet lots of love….they will love you back and keep you balanced for years to come.