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VASIE Pilates and Balance

The focus of the week is balance. When we think of balance one of the first things that comes to mind is NOT falling. Especially in Alaska where we have over 100 icy days per year. One of the other things we think of is age. The older we get the more likely it seems that we will fall and hurt ourselves. We are all used to the idea of balance degrading over time…

Luckily for us, working on balance has amazing side affects that go far beyond not falling. These side effects are better respiration, more graceful and more fluid movement, a more supple spine, and more confidence in your movements.

Many people have read that there is a strong correlation between balance and longevity. Why is this? Does this imply that people with strong ankles live longer? Possibly, but the reason is probably that asking a person to balance on one leg tests a lot of your systems from eyes, to inner ears, to the part of the nervous system responsible for balance and orientation, to the muscular system itself.

Here are things that we do to improve your balance at Studio One:

Things that improve balance in your VASIE Pilates program;

Bosu - Get on the bosu before and after class for a couple of minutes. Your body learns quickly from having to stand on the bosu. While you may feel incompetent at first your body is developing new reflexes and strengthening the tiny muscles in your feet and ankles. I always say that it is good idea to really test your limits a bit. Don’t actually fall off but try to test your abilities each time. The Bosu’s in the class are there specifically because we are in Alaska. Give them a spin for a couple of minutes before each class!

Nice side effect of the bosu - challenging your balance will also help to tone your core muscles and improve their timing.

Footwork: Almost every VASIE Pilates workout includes footwork. Of course for most of what we do feet are a key aspect of balance. The muscles in your feet are also “trigger points” that tell your core muscles to fire. Working your feet on the reformer helps to keep those trigger points strong supple and effective for when you need them in real life. When you do footwork well on a reformer it tends to keep the ankle joints more “neutral’ or balanced. Neutral joints are less biased in any direction and are generally more responsive and adaptable to movement needs.

My favorite story was from a client who had his feet analyzed in while walking on a gait analyzing mat. He was looking into getting orthoics. After 2 years of doing VASIE pilates religiously he had his feet re-analyzed… At the end of two years he noted his were perfectly balanced and the person who gave him the walking analysis was very surprised. This clients feet were better in three years. He was used to seeing feet go the other way. Definitely not improving.

Other Pilates Exercises: Working with your body in a mindfully is what Pilates is about. When you take this approach and work carefully between breath and movement you gain what we call proprioception. As we add complexity to the exercises your brain maps and remaps your body. As your practice progresses cues like lower down 1/2 a vertebra at a time will not only make sense but start to seem like big movements. I call this form of body awareness micro-awareness. Micro-awareness is a great way to begin to really feel and inhabit your body. In terms of balance we could easily infer that all of this body mapping and remapping should help improve and maintain your balance.

Breathing: As you’ve heard us say hundreds of times - Breathing muscles ARE core muscles. If you aren’t breathing smoothly and easily during a “Core” exercise you aren’t doing a core exercise. The inability to breath smoothly means that you are now in “grunt” mode and bearing down on your joints rather than lengthening through them…

Because BREATHING MUSCLES are CORE muscles (caps are for emphasis) and CORE muscles are BALANCE muscles. Simply training breathing improves your balance! A lot. In addition, core muscles also help to improve your body mechanics without you having to actually develop new “muscle memories” for the same reason that they improve balance…

Other Ways to Improve and Maintain Balance:

Get Outside/Learn New Skills:

Once your muscle and respiration are working well take your body outside. Good ways to maintain and improve balance are hiking over uneven terrain, cycling, running, skiing and snowboarding. Make a commitment to try something new this year.

Other great activities are rock climbing, dancing, Tai Chi - anything that gets you moving.

Hope to see more of you standing on your Bosu’s or warming up your feet and breathing before class!