Yoga and Balance

When I ask students what their goals are for their yoga practice “improving balance” often comes up as one of the replies. I truly believe that Yoga is one of the best things you can do to improve balance. In fact, yoga is all about balance – balancing strength and flexibility to provide optimal range of motion and freedom from pain. Research has shown that practicing balancing postures can reduce the risk of falling. Off the mat, practicing a yogic lifestyle balances all the layers of our being – they physical, energetic, mental, emotional and spiritual. In a real sense, yoga is all about creating balance – or a sattvic state – to achieve our highest potential.


I have personally struggled with balance over the course of many years. 29 years ago I had an inner ear infection that left me extremely dizzy. According to a neurologist I saw after 11 months of being dizzy, the infection also left me with inner ear scar tissue. The neurologist said the brain would eventually learn to compensate, which it did, except when it doesn’t, such as when I’m tired, ill, or stressed out. 


Over the years, I have met many other dizzy people. The causes of dizziness may differ, but I have learned that dizziness is a rather common issue. Inner ear issues are listed as the #1 cause. Wax crystals also cause temporary dizziness. Neuromuscular issues including Parkinson’s and MS cause balance issues, as do some medications. Low blood pressure can also cause dizziness. Aging is also on listed as a top cause of balance issues but research shows that active older people resemble much younger people.


So how does yoga help? 

Practicing yoga expands awareness. We practice awareness on the breath, awareness of alignment, awareness of sensations in the body, awareness of the thought waves of the mind. This practice of awareness helps develop awareness of what needs to be strengthened and what needs to be stretched, what serves you and what doesn’t. Awareness creates stability, balance, even purpose. Try balancing on one leg without focusing your complete attention on the moment, and all you need to be aware of to remain upright. This awareness turns out to be protective of many things, including falls. 


Yoga has practices for the whole being, all the kosas – the physical, energetic, mental & emotional, wisdom and bliss. All the yoga practices including asana, pranayama, visualization, meditation, mantra, chanting, ethical lifestyle practices, are designed to expand awareness on all levels. This ultimately leads to more conscious and skillful decisions that better serve you, your goals, your purpose. This is the vastness of yoga.


So what does the vastness of yoga have to do with balance?  EVERYTHING! The expansion of awareness and energy leads to greater balance on all levels of being. Personally, I became aware that my dizziness increased when there was lack of balance in other parts of my life, when I wasn’t getting enough sleep, or eating as well as I possible could, or was working too much, feeling stressed or tired. When I started making a concerted effort to be in bed by 10:00, rest and play more, find more work/personal time balance, my life in general became more balanced and I experienced far less dizziness. 


What can you do to improve balance in your life?

I believe the first thing to do to improve balance is to set an intention, a sankalpa. This is not a resolution you make and then forget about in a month. A sankalpa is a deeply rooted intention that is aligned with your highest purpose and helps keep you on the track. It is stated in the present tense as your truth, even if it is not yet so.


The next step is a plan to make it so.  That requires expanding awareness on the obstacles to your greater balance. Some obstacles cannot be changed and need to be accepted and accommodated. Other obstacles may be within your control to overcome. If there are physical obstacles you can strengthen and stretch, and make a commitment to making it a consistent part of your life so you can be as strong and healthy as possible. This is especially important in aging and managing chronic dis-ease.


If there are life style obstacles you can commit to making necessary changes.  You can increase awareness and discernment of that which no longer serves you and that which does, and choose accordingly. 


Please join me on October 20th for a workshop on Finding Your Balance.


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