Balance, perturbations, and neuroplasticity….
A lot of people are concerned about losing their balance and have a fear of falling. So, what can we do to improve our balance? Let’s start with some basic exercises in standing.
1) Single leg standing:
Stand in front of a counter top or other stable surface. Gently place your hands on the counter top for safety. Lift one foot off of the floor so you are standing on one leg. Don’t rest the lifted leg on the standing leg, just let hang relaxed in the air. You can lift your hands off of the counter, but it’s there if you need it to steady yourself. See if you can balance on one leg for 30-60 seconds.You may feel your ankle or hip wobble a bit, but that’s fine….you are actually training the nerve endings (proprioceptors) in your feet, ankles, knees and hips how to adjust to maintain your balance. Don’t look down at the floor; instead, keep your head up and look staight ahead. Hold for 30-60 seconds. Stop. Repeat on the other leg.
2) Progressing single leg standing:
Once you are able to maintain your balance on one leg for a duration of 30-60 seconds and it feels easy, place a small pillow under your standing foot. This adds a “perturbation” into the challenge of balance, because now your standing surface is less stable. As a result, the nerve endings have to work harder to adjust to the changing environment (neuroplasticity). Hold for 30-60 seconds. Stop. Repeat on the other leg. Once this is easy, add another pillow under the standing (supporting) leg. This further decreases the stability of your standing surfaces and gives more information to your nervous system about balance.
3) Adding more perturbations:
If you choose to further challenge your balance, you will need a partner. Stand with both feet on the floor and have your partner gently push you. Be nice to each other! The purpose is not to knock each other over, but to gently perturb your partner’s standing balance. Try pushing from different angles and directions. This gives your partner different messages into their nervous system for the purpose further challenging and fine tuning their sense of balance.
If you currently have balance issues, a neurological condition, a history of falls or osteoporosis, don’t attempt these exercises. Consult with a licensed physical therapist or Certified Feldenkrais(R) Practitioner for assistance.
Here is Giovanni practicing his balance, perturbations and neuroplasticity while his buddy Bruno offers encouragement. Giovanni was unable to stand or walk after being diagnosed with a neurological disorder. After 6 weeks of balance training, Giovanni was standing, walking, running and even jumping on the bed, much to his delight!