Friday, July 22, 2016

Improving Balance as we Age: Working from the Ground, Up

By Janine L. Agoglia

As we age, balance becomes a bigger issue. Many falls occur because people lose their balance. In an aging body, a fall can lead to broken bones which are often slow to heal. To avoid this, it is really important to work on your balance preventatively. This will strengthen your legs and ankles giving you a more solid, steady gait. If you can stand on one foot, standing on two feet becomes that much easier!

The key to balance of any kind (whether upside down or right side up) is adaptability. The more you can adapt to subtle shifts in your weight and breath, the easier it is to hold and maintain your balance. When you are rigid, and trying to "hold on for dear life," you are much more likely to fall over. Yoga Sutra 2.46, written by the ancient yogi Patanjali, is "Sthira Sukham Asanam" which translates to Steady, Comfortable Seat. Every yoga pose should feel strong and steady, while simultaneously feeling comfortable and relaxed. It is finding that equilibrium between stability and ease that creates balance.


Mountain Pose
Start with your foundation by finding stability on two feet. For more information about that, read about Mountain Pose (Tadasana) in Reducing Anxiety by Becoming a Mountain. Just practicing Tadasana/Mountain Pose daily can help you to develop your awareness of where you hold your weight on your feet. It builds your strength and stability from the ground, up. Start by holding the pose for 5-10 breaths, working your way up to 20 breaths. The goal is to be fully present on your feet, engaging the muscles to hold you up while also feeling a sense of relaxation and ease through the entire 5-20 breaths.

Once that is comfortable, you can begin practicing one-legged balance poses, such as Tree Pose (Vrksasana).

Variation #1
Variation #2
Start by standing in Mountain Pose and shift most of your weight onto your right foot so that you can raise your left heel off the floor (ball of the foot is still on the ground). Keep the basic alignment of Mountain (stacking the hip over the knee over the ankle), pressing the right foot strongly into the floor while engaging your right thigh and buttock and your lower abdominal muscles. Once that feels stable, try floating your left foot off the floor, raising your left knee toward your chest. Once that feels stable, place your left foot somewhere on the inner right leg (above or below the knee) and move your left knee as far to the left as you can while keeping the pelvis aiming forward. Your knee will end up on a diagonal, it will
Variation #3
never be flat to the side; if it is flat to the side that means you have shifted your pelvis which will throw off the alignment of your standing
leg. You can place your hands on your hips (Variation #1), you can bring your palms together in front of your heart (Variation #2, Anjali Mudra) or for more of a challenge you can raise your arms above your head, providing that you keep your
shoulders down (Variation #3). Hold Tree Pose as long as you can, remembering to stay relaxed, both in body and mind. Keep breathing in and out evenly through your nose. When one side is tired, try it on the other leg. You may notice that balance is much easier on one side that it is on the other; this is completely normal. We don't lead symmetrical lives so it is common for one side to be stronger than the other. Over time, with practice, this should even out.

Falling over is also normal. Balance is found by falling over a lot first. What is most important is how you relate to the falling over. If you are harsh or critical with yourself, you will create more tension in your body and make it that much harder to find your balance. If instead you say only kind and supportive things to yourself, it is much easier to maintain that sense of ease.

Try making balance part of your daily life, any time you find yourself standing. Try washing the dishes, talking on the phone or brushing your teeth while standing on one leg (it doesn't need to be Tree Pose, but it can be). The more you practice, the easier it gets and more quickly you will see improvement.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.


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