Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Balancing Act

If we think of balance at all, most of us think of work-life balance and the never-ending struggle to make time for work, family and even, selfishly, ourselves. Somehow, pre-families and pre-careers, we managed to fit in studying, playing, maybe a part-time job, and plenty of sleeping. It’s only in our late twenties and thirties that we seem to become conscious of the juggling act, as we add more and more to our schedules. And, it doesn’t get any easier after that. 

Think of balance another way, and you can add yet another ball to your act: maintaining your physical sense of balance. I know, I know, you thought if you ran around all the time and were physically active most of your life, you could start to take it easy later on. Not! 

The WSJ reports that the three systems—the visual, the vestibular (or inner ear) and the proprioceptive (or sense of body position)--that keep us balanced start to erode when we’re in our 40’s.  The good news is that doing 5-10 minutes of balancing exercises each day can counteract that erosion. 

Reading the WSJ article made me thankful that I’ve been doing yoga for so many years.  So much of yoga focuses on balance.  The tree pose, where you stand on one leg with the foot of the other leg resting on your inner thigh, can be challenging, but well worth it.  As most yogis know, some days you can balance, and some days you can’t, but you keep trying. The John Denver line “Some days are diamonds; some days are stone” keeps running through my head. I guess because some days in yoga class, you sparkle and other days, your body feels like a lead weight.
There is also a mental component to regaining balance, says Arlene Schmid, an associate professor of occupational therapy at Colorado State University. This mental aspect is a bigger factor for people with impaired balance due to advanced age or illness. In a study published by the medical journal Stroke in 2012, Dr. Schmid's team taught yoga to post-stroke patients for eight weeks. Of the 34 patients, 19 initially had balance impairment as measured on the Berg balance scale. After training, 11 had impaired balance…Yoga can boost balance ability because it increases flexibility and its many poses integrate movements that strengthen a lot of different muscles, including those in the hip, says Dr. Schmid.”
Consider these facts:

  • In the U.S., falls are the leading cause of injury for people over 65
  • Every 17 seconds, someone in this age group is treated in an emergency room for a fall
  • Every 30 minutes, one will die from injuries caused by falling  

I’ve experienced some of this with my 82 year old mother, who has had several falls.  She goes further downhill with each fall and never quite comes back to the level of health she had before. 

If reading this doesn’t make you run right out and sign up for yoga, perhaps you’ll instead try a few of the simple exercises included in the article. Here’s to all of us staying balanced in every way. May all of our days be diamonds.