What are Balance and Proprioception?
Balance is the maintenance of the center of gravity over the base of support; it is both a static and dynamic quality. Balance is a key component of coordination, one of the five biomotor skills needed for athletic performance ( Speed • Strength • Endurance • Flexibility among the others). Balance training improves Proprioception.
Proprioception is the body’s internal sense of position, motion, and equilibrium. It’s the body’s awareness of its position and motion of its joints position in space. Proprioception training is highly correlated to athletic performance and a reduced risk of injury and re-injury, especially with respect to ankles.
The conscious and subconscious knowledge of our body’s position in relation to the space around it, as well as the preservation of our center of gravity’s stability, are the foundations of balance and proprioception.
How does balance & proprioception affect runners?
If you’re incapacitated due to an injury, even intense commitment, a tough training plan, and natural skill won’t take you very far. Proprioception is one of the most important things a runner can use to avoid injury or recover from one. This is particularly true for runners who run on uneven terrain such as trail, dirt, gravel, sand, etc. On this uneven terrain, improved proprioception means increased responsiveness and awareness.
In fact, according to research published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, a balance-training program targeted at improving proprioception lowers the likelihood of ankle sprains in athletes. Because runners are prone to sprains, pulls, and strains, improved proprioception means safer running.
The Effect of Yoga on the Nervous System
We have sensory neurons, which will accept information in an afferent direction, meaning it will come in from the environment and be processed by our central nervous system and brain. Then there are motor or efferent neurons, which will take any information from our brain and central nervous system and let activity out into the world. These cells may make new connections despite their incapacity to split, and we may enhance particular connections by adding genuine synapses. Neuroplasticity or synaptic plasticity refers to this ability for us to create new patterns or new pathways through increasing connections or increasing synapses along the pathways associated with the behaviors we want to maximize, like resting, de-stressing, balancing, running, etc.
There have been studies conducted in the recent past that conclude that stress negatively affected dynamic and static balance, even for short periods of time. A study done in Turkey in 2018 concluded that an increase in stress-related cortisol negatively impacts the ankle proprioception sense.
Yoga practices to improve balance and proprioception
Yoga practices that include asana, pranayama, and deep relaxation help reduce stress and in turn reduce the stress-induced cortisol, this directly relates to improved balance and proprioception abilities. Balancing asanas help develop the functions of the cerebellum, the brain center that controls how the body works in motion.
The focus required to perform these asanas with steadiness develops concentration and balance at the emotional, mental and psychic levels removing stress and anxiety. For relief of excessive tension, these asanas should be held for as long as possible.
To steady the mind, practice concentration on one point at eye level or naval level on the ground or as indicated in the individual asana practice. This allows the body to maintain seemingly difficult positions for long periods of time. Balancing asanas may be difficult to perform at first however the body is very adaptable and progress will quickly be made with a few weeks of regular practice, carefully observing the contraindications given for individual practice.
Ek Pada Pranam ( One-legged Prayer Pose)
- Stand upright with feet together and arms at the sides.
- Focus the gaze on a fixed point in front of the body.
- Bend the right knee, grasp the right ankle and place the sole of the foot on the inside of the left thigh. The heel should be close to the perineum and the right knee should point out to the side.
- When the body is balanced, place the hands in prayer position in front of the chest for the final position.
- Release the hands and then the foot. Relax completely in the starting position and change sides.
Breathing- Breathe normally throughout the practice.
Duration- Practice up to 3 rounds on each leg, holding the final position for up to 2 minutes.
Awareness- On a fixed point at eye level.
Variation- Assume the final position. Keep the gaze focused at eye level, inhale and raise the arms above the head, palms together. Hold the position with the breath inside and on exhalation, lower the hands back in front of the chest. Repeat on the other side.
Natarajasana ( Lord Shiva’s pose )
- Stand with your feet together and focus on a fixed point.
- Bend the right knee and grasp the right ankle with the right hand behind the body.
- Keep both knees together and maintain balance.
- Slowly raise and stretch the right leg backward, as high as comfortable. Make sure the right hip does not twist and the leg is raised directly behind the body.
- Reach upward and forward with the left arm, bringing the tip of the index finger and thumb of the left hand together to form jnana mudra.
- Focus the gaze on the left hand.
- This is the final position. Hold the position for as long as is comfortable.
- Lower the left arm to the side. Lower the right leg, bringing the foot to the floor. Lower the right arm to the side.
- Relax then repeat with your left leg.
Breathing- Breathe normally throughout the practice.
Contra-indications - People suffering from cardiac issues, high blood pressure, back problems, hernia, colitis, peptic or duodenal ulcers, or vertigo should not practice this asana.
Benefits- This asana strengthens the back, shoulders, arms, hips and legs. It helps develop a sense of balance and coordination and improves concentration.
Ekapadasana (one foot pose) / Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3 Pose)
- Stand relaxed with your feet together.
- Raise the arms directly above the head and interlock the fingers with the palms together.
- Bend forward slowly from the hips, keeping the trunk, head, and arms in a straight line and transferring the weight on the right leg.
- Simultaneously raise the left leg straight back, keeping it in line with the trunk.
- The body should pivot from the hip joint.
- In the final position the left leg, trunk, head, and arms are all in one straight, horizontal line. The right leg is straight and vertical.
- Focus the gaze on the hands.
- Hold the final position for as long as is comfortable and then, keeping the arms, back, and leg aligned, return to the upright position.
- Slowly lower the arms and return to the starting position. Repeat the movement , raising the right leg back.
Breathing - Inhale while raising the arms. Exhale while bending to assume the final position. Breathe normally in the final position. Inhale while returning to the upright position. Exhale while lowering the arms.
Duration - Up to 3 times on each side, holding for as long as is comfortable on each side.
Awareness - on maintaining the alignment of limbs and spine, and on maintaining balance.
Sequence - This posture must be preceded or followed by a backward bending asana like makarasana or setubandhasana.
Contra-indications - People with lower back problems, heart problems or high blood pressure should not do this asana.
Vatayanasana (flying horse pose)
- Stand with your feet together.
- Focus the gaze on a fixed point.
- Shift the weight of the body to the right leg.
- Bend the left knee and place the foot on the right thigh in the half lotus position.
- Hold the left ankle until the body is steady, then place the palms together in front of the chest.
- Slowly bend the right knee and lower the body, maintaining balance, until the left knee rests on the floor.
- Hold the final position for a short while, resting with the weight evenly balanced on the right foot and left knee. Transfer the weight back on the right leg and slowly raise the body, straightening the right knee, and returning to the starting position.
- Release the left leg and lower it to the floor. Relax in the standing position with the eyes closed.
- Repeat the practice on the opposite side.
- Practice up to 3 times on each side.
Breathing - Inhale while standing on one foot in the starting position. Retain the breath while lowering the body. Breathe normally in the final position. Inhale and retain the breath while raising the body. Exhale when once more standing upright.
Awareness - on maintaining the balance, especially while transferring the weight in the different stages of the practice, and on the upward surge of energy and strength in legs while raining the body.
Contra-indications - This is a strenuous practice. People with sciatica, slipped disc, weak back, hips, knees or ankles, herniam heart problems or high blood pressure should not practice this asasa.
Benefits - Strengthens the leg muscle and knee joints. It helps develop coordination and balance.
Variation - In the final posture stretch the arms downward at a 45 degree angle or stretched sideways like the wings of a bird.
Ekapada Angustha (Tiptoe pose)
- Squat, with the gaze focused on a fixed point.
- Raise the heels and balance on the tiptoes.
- Allow the knee to come forward slightly so that the thighs are horizontal.
- Adjust the heel of the left foot so that it presses against the perineum.
- Transfer the weight on the left foot and place the right foot on top
- On the left thigh, turn the sole upward.
- Balance the whole body and then place the palms together in front of the chest.
- Stay in this final position for as long as is comfortable. Replace the right foot on the floor. Relax for a short time and repeat on the other side. Practice 2-3 times on each side.
Breathing - Breathe normally throughout the practice.
Awareness - on the pressure of the heel while maintaining balance.
Contraindications - People with sciatica, slipped disc, ankle or knee problems should not practice this asana.
Benefits - Strengthens the toes and ankles. Helps improve concentration, focus and balance.
- Asana Pranayaam Murda Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Bihar School of Yoga).
- Sivananda Yoga Manual
- USATF Track and Field Coaching Essentials - Level 1
- Engineering Health: Introduction to Yoga and Physiology by NYU on Coursera
Sumit is an internationally qualified Yoga Scholar and a Running Coach who lives by the mantra “Athletes first, winning second.” He is an avid runner and a yoga practitioner himself, has seen the effects of endurance sports on the body and how yoga can help. His passion for both running and yoga has inspired him to create a yoga curriculum specifically for runners. He has worked with a number of athletes and running clubs, in incorporating Yoga into their training regimens, improving athletic performance and enhancing recuperation. Sumit worked in the past as national head for Yoga at Cure.fit, and as Running Coach for HRX Run Club & Cure.fit). You can read more about him at www.YogiOnRun.com
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