Blame your workouts, not your klutzy nature, the next time you fall off a curb or trip over your own two feet. Without regular training, balance can be elusive. Your ability to balance and avoid falls starts to decline around age 40. Balance exercises, such as those performed in yoga, can help keep you upright and strong whether you are trying to stay upright on 4-inch pumps or just want to avoid tripping over your dog's bowl.
Balance is the ability of your body to maintain stability. You need good balance to walk, dance and play. While falling now may be embarrassing, as you age it can be particularly dangerous, because you can suffer fractures and limitations in mobility. Balance is partly due to genetics, but also depends on your physical fitness. Your eyes, your inner ear and receptors in the skin, connective tissue and muscles make balance possible.
Yoga can help with balance by training you to keep a steady focus. Maintaining a pinpoint gaze at a still object helps you from toppling in your Tree pose. Oftentimes, balance problems occur because your mind is scattered and you aren’t paying attention to what is on the floor in front of you. Yoga increases your awareness, thus decreasing your chance of falling.
Standing yoga poses build strength in the feet, legs and hips – all of which are essential to successfully balancing. Standing Mountain pose, for example, requires you to press all four corners of your feet into the floor while lifting up through your arches. While it may seem like you are just standing on your mat, you are also contracting the quadriceps muscles at the front of your thighs and tightening the pelvic floor. Training your body to activate these muscles will help you next time you encounter an errant rock on the trail or your child’s toy in the living room.
Your mom was right when she told you to stand up straight. Poor posture can throw your body out of equilibrium. Desk jobs, driving in cars and lounging on the couch all wreak havoc on our ability to line up our joints when standing. Yoga can help you train to stand up tall as your body was designed to do. Yoga poses such as Mountain pose or Tree pose require you to keep your knees, hips and shoulders stacked. Regular practice of these poses makes this solid alignment your natural state of being so you are less likely to take a tumble.
Certain medical conditions and medications can interfere with balance. If you experience dizziness and unsteadiness often, consult your physician. It may be an indication of more than poor training.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.