6 Tips For Improving Balance and Preventing Falls
Falls are no laughing matter, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis. About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will suffer at least one osteoporotic fracture, according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.
Fractures typically occur in the spine, hip or wrist. For many, a fall can begin a downward cycle of increased fear, less mobility, physical decline, and eventually a loss of independence. It’s no wonder falls present such a large concern for older people.
Staying balanced requires coordinated efforts from the brain, muscles, nervous system, ears, eyes and even the joints. Most of us manage good balance effortlessly (for the most part) until we start to age. Then changes to our vision, ear canal issues, muscle loss and medication use trigger a decline the ability to balance. That is why balance is so essential to fracture prevention.
Balance is like a muscle—it needs to be worked daily. Your yoga practice offers lots of opportunities for practicing balance. All standing pose (even when both feet stay on the ground) serve to strengthen the muscles that keep you upright. Further, the more often you practice balance poses, like Tree or Warrior 3, the steadier and more confident you become.
Here are six (6) keys to remember when practicing balance poses:
1- Find a Drishti or Gazing Point
Looking at a fixed point, or drishti, can really help with balance. Find a point or object directly in front of you and at your horizon line. Try to keep your gaze steady but soft.
2- Engage Your Core
Your core stabilizes your body, allowing you to move in any direction. When balancing, your core provides stability as your weight shifts in your feet and ankles. To use your core when balancing, imagine a girdle around your midsection drawing in towards the center of your torso. Maintain this steady, firm pressure as you continue to breathe. Engaging these muscles will help minimize any swaying or wobbling.
3- Lengthen the Spine
Our spines are S-shaped for a reason. The curves help to distribute the body’s weight evenly. By standing tall, you bring those curves into their natural and intended alignment. Before you come into any balance pose, think “tall” to lengthen the spine. Continue to elongate through the crown of the head as you hold the pose.
4- Draw Your Attention Inward
How well you balance can have as much to do with your mental state as it does with your physical ability. If you are not focused mentally, or if your emotions are running wild, the body will wobble. Drawing your attention inward allows you to block outside distractions and be able to concentrate on balancing.
Fear of falling makes us hold our breath. When we hold our breath, we also tighten our muscles and become more rigid which makes a fall more likely. Think about how trees bend and sway in the wind. Softer muscles allow our bodies shift and adjust to the inevitable wobbling that comes with balancing. Do your best to maintain a smooth, even breath.
6- Practice Non-Attachment
Like our mood, balance can change from day to day, even minute to minute. Instead of engaging in an inner tirade (ie: I’m lousy at balancing, etc), be kind to yourself. Recognizing that it is normal to have days when balance seems elusive will go a long way. You can always try again tomorrow:-)
I hope you find these tips helpful the next time you practice balance poses. Be sure to check out, 5 Beginner-Friendly Poses for Better Balance.
published 11/8/21; updated 9/18/23