BALANC-ING…Since my New Year’s Day walk on the beach, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Balance. What an amazing feat we accomplish every day just by rolling out of bed, pushing off and swinging up to vertical on the soles of our feet. From that moment, to the time we sink back between the covers, we are dancing with gravity and mostly don’t ever know it. In fact, unlike the other senses, balance is something we don’t really want to be aware of for the most part. If it’s off the radar, it’s probably working just fine.
As I’ve come to find out, balance is not static. the ability to balance is the result of a truly amazing coordination of systems. Balance has a lot of moving parts.
The information the brain needs to orient you in space comes from at least five separate systems. The vestibular apparatus in the inner ear contains little floating particles of calcite that allow the brain to sense where the head is in relation to gravity when nearby receptors are stimulated. The semi-circular canals, also part of the inner ear, signal acceleration and deceleration as the body moves. The visual system provides orientation by sensing eye movements and tracking objects in space. The muscular system assists in maintaining balance by controlling posture and also through receptors in muscles and tendons that communicate with the spinal cord and brain about the way they are stretching and contracting. This feedback is vital, because maintaining balance on two feet requires constant, minute adjustments. The skeletal system has receptors in the joints that provide feedback about the position of the limbs. Ever wondered how you can tell exactly the position of an arm or leg even with your eyes closed? In addition to these joint receptors, the skin also has receptors that register the amount of stretch over a joint, giving additional information about location in space. Finally, the soles of the feet have pressure receptors that register pitch and sway; whether you are tipping back, forward or to the sides.
It is a seamless orchestration, interrelated and humming along outside of awareness; but not to be taken for granted.
Balance naturally deteriorates to some degree with ageing, but there is a lot we can do to prevent it, and it doesn’t take heroic efforts or hours at the gym. Begin by being aware. Notice and appreciate the way you navigate through the literal ups and downs of your day; sitting, walking, standing still…invite a sense of playful curiosity about the many ways you experience being on and off balance, moment to moment.
Finally, let’s all remember that like the photograph here, balance is often presented to us as a fixed state of equilibrium, frozen like a snapshot…but this is an illusion. Balance is fluid, always in flux, a process of adjustments over time and accommodation to changing circumstance. Playing with balance as a dance with gravity might free up some space, literally and figuratively, to explore your edge gradually, expand your current comfort zone, and get more familiar with the sensation of coming back to center, again and again…and again.
You might like to check out this book by Seattle author Scott McCredie Balance: In Search of the Lost Sense. Here’s his website: http://www.balancethelostsense.com