One of the top concerns new students have in yoga is their balance: they know it’s not as good as it used to be and they’re concerned they’re “losing it.” No one wants to star in the old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ad.
What many don’t realize is that poor balance is just a symptom of a systemic problem: you’re not just losing balance, you’re losing your proprioception in general. Think of proprioception as the messages the body sends to the brain. Your brain is constantly telling your body what to do, but the problem is the other part of the feedback loop. You body has a whole bunch of signals–sensations–that it sends back to your brain. Modern life has essentially dulled your reception of those signals. Poor reception means you can’t adapt. You’re trying to “will” yourself to stand steadily on one foot, but it’s a one-way message to your foot from your brain–not enough to achieve the “steadiness and ease,” or sukkha and sthira we aim for in yoga.
What’s the easiest/fastest way to improve? Ditch the shoes. Many of your proprioceptive powers are in your feet. Walking around in shoes–especially ones with thick soles and orthopedic supports–is like a speaker with a pillow over it. They bugger your reception. Go back to basics: bare feet walking over as many surfaces as possible. Now, be advised, the people who make/prescribe the ortho supports will disagree…hmmm.
My first yoga teacher HATED sticky mats. She thought they were something for “weak Americans.” She encouraged us to do yoga on as many surfaces as possible.
In addition to poor receptors, you probably have “weak American” feet, that are stiff, not pliable. They can’t make the subtle adjustments necessary to keep you steady. Do you know the most important joint in the body? Your ankles! Are they strong, or weak–prone to rolling in or out?
Yet, I hardly ever have anyone come to yoga saying they need to strengthen their feet. Hands and wrists are another story. Most people have no business trying to imitate those amazing Instagram arm balances–their hands and wrists are no where near strong enough, even if they’ve build up shoulders and core.
Proprioception issues go beyond the feet, but start there. You’ll soon be ready to join one of our proprio-positive YogaHotDish classes. And please, do not arrive squeamish about taking off your shoes AND socks or leaving the “safe space” of your sticky mat.
PS. DId you know that proprio yoga will also improve your working memory? I almost forgot to mention that 🙂