Young or old, better balance prevents injuries.
That’s because physical stability gets muscles to work well together, so that one isn’t overpowering another. Muscle imbalances often lead to injuries, no matter how far along you are in years.
And statistics show that as you age, you’re more likely to get injured from a fall – with lack of balance to blame. According to the National Council on Aging, every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall. Those terrifying stats were extrapolated from data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which defines “older adult” as 65-plus.
“Balance is important for activities of daily living,” says Unum Health & Wellbeing Consultant Taylor Eubank, a certified exercise physiologist. “Simply standing or walking requires balance that many of us tend to take for granted.”
This is the third in a series of three articles that explain the benefits of yoga and how to tap into the ancient practice at work, anytime – whether you’re in a suit, scrubs or construction boots.
Part 1: The Breath / How to tap yoga’s benefits on the job
Part 2: Movement/ No mat needed: Yoga at your desk
Part 3: Balance / How yoga can help you have better balance – literally
Balance also can up your athletic quotient.
“Having good balance is important for exercise performance, illustrated by examples of the appropriate posture that must be maintained while running a 5k or cycling,” Eubank says.
One of the main things a physical yoga practice offers is better balance. And honing your balance provides benefits beyond your bones and muscles: It sharpens your focus. As you practice the yoga pose below, notice how one-pointed your attention becomes.
Make sure you’re not wearing high heels or clothes that are super tight. Start at stage 1, and over time – which might mean many sessions – work up to stage 4. Master at least three breaths in each stage before graduating to the next.
Set up: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, toes point ahead, shoulders stacked over your hips and your chin level with the ground. Find an eye-level visual point of focus. Take three deep breaths, anchoring yourself to their rhythm. Bring your hands to your hips. Continue taking smooth steady breaths in each stage.
Stage 1: Press down through your left foot. Bend your right knee and turn your right hip out (up to 90 degrees, less if your hips are tight or you haven’t done any stretching or physical exercise within a couple hours). Touch your right toes to the ground next to the arch of your left foot, trying to graze your left inner ankle with the ball of your right foot. Play with lifting your right toes off the ground. Check in with your hands to make sure your hips stay level. Repeat on other leg.
Stage 2: Follow stage 1, then bring the sole of your right foot to the inside of your left calf. Press your foot into your inner calf and your inner calf into your foot to create stability and keep your hips level. Repeat on other leg.
Stage 3: Follow stage 2, then raise your arms overhead. Make sure you are still focusing on your visual point. Repeat on other leg.
Stage 4: Follow stage 3, then lift your eyes skyward and find a visual point of focus above. Slowly let your head follow. Make sure you’re still breathing smoothly. Repeat on other leg.
Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She was a senior editor for Yoga Journal and still does research for the magazine on wellness, fitness and nutrition. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.