Feeling wobbly and off-balance during yoga? These seven simple tips will help.
At a time when everything feels off-kilter, it’s no wonder we find ourselves stumbling around from time to time. Incorporating balance training into your exercise regime might be low on your list of workout priorities, but it has more benefits than you’d think. Not only does good balance help you remain upright, but it can prevent injury, improve your PB, streamline your running technique and correct poor posture – that’s a whole lot of benefits for something that often gets overlooked.
“Balance is required for everyday activities that many of us take for granted,” says exercise physiologist Tom Cowan. “Simple things such as going up and down the stairs requires good balance. In order to stay strong and flexible as we age, balance training should be more of a priority.”
While a doddery disposition may be something we associate with old age, Tom believes that working on our balance can be advantageous to everyone, regardless of how old we are. “We can all benefit from balance training,” he says. “It’s natural to favour one leg over the other when it comes to movement; we tend to have a dominant supporting leg which we are able to balance on better than the other leg. This means the latter is weaker in comparison and can throw off our balance when trying to go about our everyday lives.”
What causes poor balance?
That glass (or two) of Pinot aside, the odd stumble could be a combination of muscle, joint and even skeletal weaknesses. “The brain interprets information from balance indicators located in our inner ears, our eyes and sensor receptors (called proprioceptors) within our muscles and joints,” Tom explains. “These tell the brain what position our body is in to help us maintain our balance. An issue with one of these three components, such as closing our eyes, will hinder our ability to balance.
Keeping a steady position is also dependent on muscle strength and joint mobility. Therefore, a weak core in particular can negatively impact the movement in our hip, knee, and ankle – making it more difficult to maintain good balance. Lastly, if you have injured a ligament, it can reduce the stability of a joint, making us more wobbly on our feet.”
Finding the root cause of your poor balance is half the battle but will help you determine the next steps to take. Vertigo, fatigue and an ear infection can all affect our balance so make sure that you speak to your GP if you think it could be a medical cause.
How can I benefit from better balance?
Not only will you look more graceful and ace your tree pose, but having a solid stance can also act as an insurance policy for your body later on in life. Studies have shown that age-related balance begins to decline between the ages of 40-50 years old, so trying to improve it early on will help you later in life. “Having good balance reduces our risk of falls and should be encouraged for individuals of all ages,” Tom says. “We gradually lose muscle mass and strength from our early 30s onwards (known as sarcopenia), which is what we need to maintain stability so it is important that we perform strength training throughout our lives to help slow this reduction.”
Good balance goes hand in hand with a strong core, legs and ankles. Studies have shown that athletes who improved their stability with balance training were less likely to suffer an ankle sprain than those who didn’t.
What can I do to have better stability?
If you’ve ever wobbled your way through a yoga class or struggled to run in a straight line, you’ll know that balance doesn’t always come easily or naturally to some. Like flexibility, it has to be practiced to perfection, which is where Ami Acharia, instructor at FLY LDN comes in. “Combining resistance training with yoga or pilates will help strengthen imbalances, encourage mobility and strengthen your core overall,” she suggests. Although it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation when it comes to balancing on the mat, Ami believes that perseverance is key. “With so many Zoom classes, now is a great time to lose your inhibitions and try without any judgement. Yoga often targets underused muscle groups, such as in and around the hips and shoulders, making it a great form of exercise for balance. This, alongside the detailed stretches, works to both lengthen and strengthen your body for more strong and stable alignment.”
7 simple tips for better balance
1. Breathing techniques are designed to bring awareness to your core – the anchor of all movements. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, stretch your spine tall and take 10 full, deep belly breaths, in and out through your nose.
2. Working on a Tandem Stand (one foot directly in front of the other like you’re on a tightrope) is another exercise often used for training your balance.
3. For balancing poses, keep your gaze soft and focus on one point in front of you – this will really help you maintain a strong stance.
4. When you are working on holding a pose, keep your breath continuous and be as aware of your body as possible. This is key: focus on strength rather than pushing for the pose to look a certain way.
5. The best balancing poses are tree pose and warrior three as they require more mental focus and alignment to hold.
6. Mix up your workouts. Good balance is directly related to your motor cortex plasticity (how quickly you can respond to new stimuli) so don’t stick to the same exercises. You can mix up your workout routine with yoga, running, HIIT and strength training.
7. Work balance training into small everyday activities such as standing on one leg while the kettle boils.
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IMAGE: Getty, Zen Bear Yoga