June 25, 2012

Eight Mind-Body Steps to a Balanced Self. ~ Nancy B. Loughlin

Falling down is the leading cause of injuries for older citizens.

The rattling statistic is that every 18 seconds someone over 65 falls.

Emily Chiodo
Courtesty of Author

In yoga, where the mind goes, the body follows and preferably this is not splat on the floor. Seniors, and the rest of us who are balance-challenged, can use these yogic techniques to improve strength, balance, posture and, most importantly, dangerous falls.

1. Change your thinking.

“If the mind is inflexible, the body is inflexible,” according to Emily Chiodo, director of Joyful Yoga in Bonita Springs, FL. She says so many of her students, particularly seniors concerned with falling, believe that the key to remedying their balance issues is 100 percent isolated in the body. But, in order to be physically balanced, a person must overcome fear and trepidation before any perceived physical limitations can be addressed. Take your yoga off the mat, she urges, and “suspend disbelief.”

Consider working tadasana (mountain pose) in the supermarket checkout. Stand behind your shopping cart with your feet parallel two fist-lengths apart. Ground your feet and imagine you have roots. Tuck your tail and feel your quads lifting knee caps up. Push your hips forward and lift your heart as your shoulders roll up, back and down. Feel your fingertips stretching toward the floor.

Mountain pose

2. Practice mindfulness.

Make every move of your day, or at least a few more them, part of your balance regime. Before you step into the shower, wash a dish or reach for a glass, take a deep breath. Choose a drishti (a point of focus), preferably on the floor and visualize yourself being grounded and secure
with green roots extending from the soles of your feet. Chiodo calls this “gaining firm purchase.” Then, inhale and act.

3. Balance your five senses.

Instead of the treadmill, take the trails in a local park and listen to the mourning doves and smell the blooming flowers. Run your fingertips along the bark of a tree. Taste and savor the water in your bottle. See something new—raccoon tracks, turtle dens, your reflection in the pond.

Balance your relationships. Balance your diet. Balance your work and play time. Balance your finances. Strive to always stand on your own two feet with all that implies. Push all four corners of your soles into the earth, and throughout your day notice and adjust when you shift your weight to one side. Roll your shoulders up, back, down and exhale whenever your shoulders creep toward your ears.

4. Build your powerhouse.

The earliest students of Joseph Pilates, the creator of the eponymous core strengthening workout ubiquitous in American gyms, were soldiers rehabilitating from World War I injuries and dancers. Joseph Pilates knew core strength was the key to full-body stability and balance.

The best time for your core workout is as soon as you wake up. When you rise, stretch and move to the floor, or better yet to a giant fitness ball. Begin with ten and work your way up to 100 crunches per morning. A side effect of working the core is you will also ignite your third chakra energy center, which as your power center houses your will to act. Does “listen to your gut” sound familiar? It’s a great way to start and seize your day.

5. Love lunges. Go deep.

Certified personal trainer Ari Garrido of Fort Myers, FL has never met a lunge he didn’t like.

Ari Garrido demos the office lunge

Lunges are a great way to strengthen every muscle in your leg and there is no shortage of opportunities to work them into your day. Got stairs? Grab the rail with one hand. Step to the first or second step (your call) with your right foot. Follow with the left, and then step back down with the right foot and follow left. After ten reps, switch sides and step with the left foot first followed by the right.

Lunch at the office, or waiting in the kitchen as the microwave counts down also provides an opportunity for some lunges. Garrido suggests sets of ten. Stand to the side of the desk or counter and stabilize yourself with your hand. Step your right foot forward aligning your knee directly above the ankle. Push up onto your back toe and bend your legs as deep as you wish. Switch and step forward. Work up to lunging with your hands on your hips.

6. Breathe.

When you are feeling unbalanced, simply sit and breathe. That’s it.

7. Circle the couch.

Every 30-minute television program offers a perfectly-timed balance practice.

Try this one:

Begin the show on the right side of the sofa: Balance yourself with your left fingertips and lift your bent right leg, your knee pointing toward the television and thigh parallel to the floor. Lift and lower the leg an inch or two for five slow pulses. Then, without dropping your leg, swing your right leg open so your knee is facing the right wall. Lift and lower the leg for five small pulses. Swing your leg back to the front and continue with this cycle until the first commercial.

At the first commercial break move to the back of the sofa: Prepare for Five-Pointed Star. Press your hips against the back of the sofa for stability. Step your feet wider than hip-distance apart with your toes pointed out. Place your hands in prayer position in front of your heart and inhale, lifting your pressed hands above your head. As you exhale, lower your hands back to your heart and lift high onto your toes. Continue through the first commercial break.

When the show returns move to the left side of the couch: Repeat the leg lift sequence with the left leg, your right fingertips on the sofa to stabilize you. Continue until the next commercial.

Second commercial break: Squats. Move to the front of the sofa and stand about six inches away. Shift your weight onto your heels and drop your buttocks to the sofa as if you were going to sit, but don’t sit. Hover your buttocks just above the sofa, tucking your tail to protect your lower back and keep your back straight. Reach your arms straight ahead and parallel to the floor. After a few moments, lift yourself back to standing, pushing your hips forward and pulling your arms to your sides with deliberate intention. Repeat the squats throughout the second commercial.

Have a seat, and enjoy the rest of the show.

8. Plant trees.

Growing some trees.

Planting trees is an apt metaphor for how we can interact with the earth in order to ensure a natural balance. Do we exist in a fertile environment, fertile enough to grow and bear fruit? Stand in tree pose and meditate on your personal balance. Ground all four corners of your right foot. Make a kickstand with your left, pressing your left heel against your inner right ankle. Keep a chair beside you for security. Take your hands to pray pose in front of your heat.

Are you leaving the Earth a better place? Is your soil rich and life-sustaining? Do you add to the natural balance, or are you tipping the scales? Open your eyes and slide the sole of your left foot to your right inner calf or even your inner thigh, your left knee opening wide. Hold your focus for about 30 seconds and be still. Switch sides. Trees sway in the wind so keep a micro-bend in your base leg as you reflect on the roots you are putting down.



Nancy B. Loughlin is a writer, yogini, and English teacher based in SW Florida.




Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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