Balance postures reveal much; they draw us in, focus our minds and, if we really listen, they teach us about the balance in our life off the mat.
As a yogi, I have learned the value of balance postures.
As a physician, I know that research has proven there is another important reason for the practice of balancing—all the joints and ligaments in our bodies have sensors known as proprioceptors in them.
Proprioceptors, these sensors, pick up information on where a joint is in space. We know these little guys and girls are working when we feel the ankle wobble when we are in Vrksasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Garudasana or other balancing poses.
Our balance is a three-legged stool.
The first leg is our vision, so that we can see where we are.
Our second leg is our inner ear (or vestibular system) which provides us with information about motion, balance, and position of our bodies.
The final leg is the nerve fibers in our joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles, which pick up sensory information from the joint and send it to the spinal cord, then the brain to reveal where it, currently, lives in space.
The wobble we feel is the balance of muscular contractions. This occurs after a volley of sensory information from the sensors (those yogi feet and ankles) shoot to our spinal column and, just as quickly, an outpouring of nerve signals shoot back from our spinal cord to our muscles to instruct them to contract or release in order to keep us from falling over onto our fellow yogi’s mat.
This all happens in fractions of a second!
It’s why balance postures are so much harder with our eyes closed. You take away one leg of the three-legged stools. I don’t know about you, but I would feel a bit wobbly on a two-legged stool.
Although these sensors or proprioceptors are everywhere in your body, there are three key areas which focus on the maintenance of posture and balance; the sole of the foot, the Sacroiliac joint, and the cervical spine.
These three areas take in key sensory information about motion and position. They assist in keeping us upright.
Our muscular system is not independent—it needs the nervous system to cause muscular contraction, and it also needs sensory input for the functional integration of muscles working together in harmony.
In fact, it has been proven by many studies that lack of adequate proprioceptors (usually due to injury such as an ankle sprain) can alter the way one walks, the way muscles are activated, and greatly increase our risk of injury in the musculoskeletal system.
As yogis, however, we engage this system every time we hit the mat.
Our focus isn’t solely on strengthening muscles or cardiac endurance, but the integration of all systems of our mind, body and spirit. We pay attention to our sensory system as we root through our feel and feel our connection to the ground.
In essence, every time we strike a balance pose we massage, engage and train our proprioceptors.
We enliven the integration of the sensory system in our feet and the connection to our spinal cord. We contract and release via the nerve control. All the while practicing, becoming steadier, more stable and more integrated with each breath and each wobble.
We claw the earth with our toes, lift our arches, and find the balance on the four corners of our feet. We find our Drishti, our balance, and feel the rush of information inside us pulsing back and forth that will always guide us to where we need to be, whether its keeping from toppling over onto our fellow yogi or life off the mat. And remember:
“I will catch you if you fall”—our mat.
Author: Stacey Pierce-Talsma
Volunteer Editor: Elizabeth Brumfield / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s own