The majority of us take balance for granted. That is until required to stand on one leg during a yoga class. In a physical sense, balance is defined as ‘an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady’ *.

I am a big fan of yoga balances. Its just you, your breathing and the moment. I know that many people struggle with balance during classes. Understanding whats at play within the body helps us to understand why balance is so challenging.

Our sense of balance or Equilibrioception is controlled via input from different parts of the nervous system. Receptors in the Inner ear (vestibular system), eye sight (visual system), skin pressure, muscle and joint sensory information (proprioception), all feed information into the central nervous system to make sense of where we are in space at any given moment. The vestibular system with its complex canal system is the main contributor in keeping us upright, sensing rotation and acceleration through space. External factors can confuse this, think sea-sickness, alcohol, roundabouts and swings.

These internal systems work in parallel with the external force of gravity. Put very simply, if we keep our centre of gravity (thought to be just below the navel in humans) over our base of support (our feet when standing) we remain stable. For example, if we ask a healthy human to take one leg off the floor in the yoga balance ‘tree’ they will have immediately narrowed their ‘base of support’. When lifting their arms they raise their centre of gravity. Try closing the eyes, taking the visual input out of the system, now they are really testing their balance ability.

Our ability to balance declines as we age and is affected by illness and injury. The good news however is that we can improve our sense of balance with training exercises like yoga postures.

Balances are an integral part of our weekly classes.Come and join us for yoga in Gwaelod-y-garth Thursday evenings and Chapter Arts Centre, Canton on Sundays.

*(Oxford English Dictionary)

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