by Thalia Wynne, PT, DPT, AT
Why do we care about balance? Physically, balance can be defined as stability. It’s a useful area of focus, especially in yoga, but there is far more to this concept than avoiding injury and managing not to fall over. The more you learn about physiological balance, the more you’ll learn about another, more important kind of balance.
Balance is an intricate dance of three different physiological systems: The vestibular, somatosensory, and visual systems. The vestibular system uses signals from the inner ear, position sensations known as “proprioception,” and intended movements or “motor commands” to analyze motion. The somatosensory system is governed by your senses of touch, pain, pressure, and temperature. The visual system communicates your physical orientation to your brain via eyesight, such as a view of upside-down objects signaling that your body is upside-down.
If one of these three systems is inhibited, it will impact your ability to find and maintain balance. One way to develop a strong sense of balance is to make sure that you are not over-relying on one of these three systems for information. Often, we over-rely on vision to tell us where we are in space.
Here are some simple things you can do during yoga to reduce an over-reliance on vision:
- During your yoga practice, close your eyes while moving on the mat. Remove all stimuli that provide visual information. Pay attention to other signals to tell you where you are in space, such as sounds and feelings.
- Train your vestibular system by finding a target to focus on with your eyes. Move your head side-to-side for 15 to 30 seconds. This may make you feel dizzy so try it while sitting down first. Rest and repeat 2-3 times.
- During your yoga practice, confuse your visual system. Try looking up and down or side to side while holding a pose. This forces you to rely on other systems to find your balance. You’ll learn how to engage your muscles and other senses more effectively.
- Lastly, train for optimal posture every day. Read this article by Lara Heimann to learn more about training your body’s posture to find your balance. (link)
One of the many wonders of yoga is that the principles of physical balance can translate into another, far more important kind of balance: Life balance. To get an idea of what we’re talking about, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel satisfied with my life as it is? Why or why not?
- What does it mean to me to have a work-life balance?
- Do I feel I am doing my best? How could I do better?
These are not easy questions to answer. To help you, we’d like to introduce the 8 dimensions of wellness:
- Physical: Your energy, gut health, sleep, hydration levels, hormonal health, absence of injury/illness, dietary habits, exercise habits, etc.
- Emotional: How well you know and embody your authentic being, self-worth, and emotional regulation; experiencing the full spectrum of your emotions without judgment; how well you resource yourself with grounding tools; how well you trust without co-dependency, etc.
- Spiritual: Connection with a greater meaning or a higher power in life, a sense of and pursuit of purpose, actions aligned with your authentic code and beliefs, co-creating with the universe, implementation of practices to connect to God, a Source, a Higher-self, etc.
- Social: Sense of belonging, community, connection with others; quality time with loved ones; awareness of others and your social determinants of health and how they impact interaction; awareness of your implicit biases and using strategies to mitigate them; actively participating in groups; recognizing and mitigating people-pleasing behavior; ability to set boundaries, etc.
- Environmental: Curation of a safe space for you and your family, acting in ways that honor and respect your physical world, cleanliness and order of your home and workspaces, access to resources, etc.
- Vocational: Meaningful work that aligns with your authentic values and beliefs, recognizing tendencies to overwork or underwork, satisfaction with performance, etc.
- Intellectual: Fueling your mind with brain-healthy activities, consuming uplifting content, learning, thinking critically, engaging in self-analysis and self-reflection, doing creative activities that bring you joy, trying new things, etc.
- Financial: Healthy money mindset, financial literacy, goal setting and planning, debt management, allocation of resources, etc.
Below is an exercise that will help you analyze your overall balance in these areas. You will rank each of these dimensions from 0 to 5.
0 = unsatisfied/unhappy
5 = most satisfied/happy.
It is normal to score less than a 5 in multiple areas—if not all of them! Your scores will also constantly shift through your week, month, and lifetime because your priorities shift all the time. The good news is that these scores can indicate important areas of focus, areas where you can set personal goals for improvement.
You will likely need to get out of your comfort zone in order to grow in these areas, much like forcing your body to rely on other senses and queues to develop a stronger sense of balance. Similar to the way that your three physiological systems of balance can work together, these eight areas of life balance can and should work together in promoting your overall wellness. Your mind, body, and spirit will begin learning how to rely on one another for strength. The key is being okay with being off-balance.