Balance: from loss to gain

Maintaining our balance and posture as we age depends on keeping the brain “awake” to movement patterns. Anat Baniel discusses. 

Matt, a 63-year-old businessman, came to me because of deteriorating balance that was compromising his ability to participate fully in life. A simple task like walking from his car to a nearby restaurant was challenging. He had no known diagnosis.

When he walked, Matt moved as if years older than his age and had hardly any movement in his pelvis and lower back. They did not move to counterbalance the weight of his moving legs, thus risking him toppling down.

It was as if Matt's brain didn't know he had a back and pelvis.

I had Matt lie down and guided him through a series of gentle movements with his pelvis and lower back. As his brain sensed these areas, the movements became lighter and larger. I then moved one leg at a time and observed how his brain connected these movements with the recent new mobility in his back and pelvis.

At the end of the session, Matt felt lighter on his feet, with a clear difference in his balance. By the end of five sessions, he looked years younger, had bounce in his step, and was able to resume many of the activities he loved.

What is balance?

With NeuroMovement® we think of balance as a highly dynamic state—the action of maintaining or restoring a state of balance for posture and movement.
It takes 3-5 years before a child can balance on one leg, hop on one foot, or ride a bike without training wheels. Postural control continues to develop into adulthood, and for some, like dancers and rock climbers, reaches exceptional capabilities.

Older adults often exhibit greatly diminished postural control, a major cause of falls. One-third of adults 65 and older fall at least once a year. One-fifth of those fall multiple times.

Research shows that people's balance starts deteriorating in their early 20s. As we age, it becomes more obvious. Can we reverse this process?

The answer is a resounding YES.

Aging tends to go hand-in-hand with becoming weaker and slower. Both play an important role in balance.
Many approaches to improve balance focus on directly exercising balance skills, like static balancing on one leg, or strengthening muscles. These approaches, while helpful, miss the most crucial aspect in the evolution, or devolution, of balance skills—the functioning of our brain.

In developing balance skills, children's brains create billions of new neural connections from which patterns of movement control emerge, including balance. A requirement for this process is the ability of the brain to perceive differences—what is called in neuroscience the signal-to-noise ratio.
As people age and have well-established, automatic patterns of movement, the brain tends to lose its wakefulness and acuity in perceiving differences. For example, when stepping onto an unexpected, uneven surface, if the brain doesn't perceive the changes in sensations, it lacks the information required to organize movement necessary to avoid falling.
We propose shifting the focus to what the brain needs in order to powerfully improve balance skills.

Matt experienced such transformational changes because, through the work we did together, his brain became more connected to his pelvis and back, what is called brain mapping, and was awake and able to organize his whole body for improved balance.

The brain has the ability to dramatically improve postural control for everyone, from stroke survivors to competitive athletes.
Balance practice for your brain

Do the movements gently, slowly, paying close attention to what you feel as you move and avoiding pain.
Stand, shift your weight over to the left leg and lift the right foot, then repeat to the right.
Sit at the edge of a chair, feet flat and spread.

Gently round your back, lower you head, and roll the pelvis backwards.

Then roll the pelvis forwards, arch your back, free your abdomen, and get tall.

Repeat 6-8 times.

Pay attention to any changes you might feel.
Sitting the same way, place your right hand on top of your head with your elbow open to the side.

Gently bend your head to the right, towards your right shoulder, then to the left.

Do you feel movement in your spine? Ribs? Pelvis?

Repeat 6-8 times. Notice any changes or differences between the right and left.
Sit the same way with your right hand on top of your head. Slide your pelvis to the right until your right buttock is completely off the chair.

Spread your right foot further to the right to stabilize yourself.

Bend your head to the right and lift the right hip up, then bend your head to the left and let your right hip sink below the chair.

Repeat 6-8 times.

Move back to the middle of the chair and observe changes.
Stand up, balance on the left leg, then the right.

Has the balance on one or both sides improved? Do you feel other changes?

That is your brain changing and learning.

You can download The Nine Essentials of ABM NeuroMovement® e-book at www.anatbanielmethod.com/neuromovement-ebook or do the full lesson online.

Get a 30-minute lesson directly to your inbox
Come listen to Anat Baniel speak at the Get Well Show on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th November where she'll discuss how movement can help empower your child and also help get your balance back.

Get your tickets now!
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