Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Balance of Yoga

It's my birthday tomorrow.
My 49th birthday.
This means I am about to enter my 50th year.
How did that happen?
While I still feel 17 inside, I have to admit that the prospect of the next 49 years going as fast as the first 49, means I am going to have to start taking the ageing process seriously.
There is nothing I can do about the years but I can do the best I can with what I've got and this means that yoga is my best anti-ageing policy.
There are numerous documented benefits of yoga and ageing but one that drew my attention this week was a study about the importance of maintaining and improving our ability to balance as we age.
Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University have discovered there is a dramatic decline in balance as we age.
You can read about it here.
The ability to balance on one leg with the eyes closed reduces from 30 seconds to just 4 seconds.
A drop in balance means we become at greater risk of falls which lead to broken bones, hospital stays and worse.
Researcher Dr Jamie McPhee, senior lecturer in Human Physiology said:
“In our study we were looking at the changes to muscle strength and size in older age. We were also looking at the way in which muscles are controlled by the nervous system. The nerves are hidden away, out of sight, so you can’t necessarily see how they change during ageing.
“Loss of balance means a greater risk of falling over. Falls in older age can be very serious because the bones are less dense, meaning they will break more easily. Broken wrists or hip bones are fairly common and result in hospitalisation and loss of confidence.
”During hospitalisation and the period of recovery, the muscles and nerves become smaller still, and that starts a spiral of deterioration.
“Our nerves control most aspects of muscles, including movements of the body, balance and co-ordination, and all of these are reduced with ageing."
Dr McPhee added that one way to cut your chances of falling is by good, old-fashioned exercise to keep muscles stronger.
 There are numerous one legged poses in yoga, from the simple Tree Pose to the Standing Big Toe Pose and Dancer's Pose and I have included some tutorials at the bottom.

The simple conclusion from this study is that if you don't use it, you'll lose it.

I always try to include balancing postures in my class but if you can't get to class try and include a daily balance in your own practice.

Start in the basic tree pose balancing on leg with the raised leg on your calf and your hands in prayer at your breastbone.
Make sure you are balanced on all four corners of your feet and keep your eyes open for five breaths.
Now close your eyes and see how many breaths you can remain standing on one leg.
Don't worry about wobbles, this is your body's way of adjusting to the challenging conditions.
Only open your eyes if you think you will fall over.
Now repeat on the opposite side.
Don't worry if it is just a few seconds at first.
As my favourite yoga guru, Patthabhi Jois once said: "Practice and  all is coming."

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