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A Gentle Balance

Posted Sep 29 2008 1:05am
One aspect of serendipity to bear in mind is that you have to be looking for something in order to find something else.
Lawrence Block
Elephantstand
I read an on-line article from the New York Times this weekend about the importance of our sense of balance. There are three main sensory factors that decline as a consequence of aging: vision, the proprioceptors on the bottoms of the feet and the tiny hairs in the semicircular canals of the inner ear. Together, they send gravity and motion information to the brain which then sends back neural messages to our muscles which hopefully have the strength and flexibility to respond and keep us in balance.

As I read through the tests and suggested exercises to improve balance, I thought about our Wednesday morning Gentle/Stretch classes with an average age hovering somewhere in the mid-to-late 60's. We often go into a flow of poses while balancing on one foot:
  • Utkatasana (with both feet on the ground) rising up into:
  • Garudasana, then unwinding the arms and legs and remaining on one foot, go down into:
  • Virabhadrasana III, rising up and placing two feet back onto the floor in order to sit back down into:
  • Utkatasana
There are injured shoulders, artificial hips, obstinate knees and sore feet scattered about the room. Not to mention the fact that we're often filled to the brim, with mats only inches apart from each other. Some of these graceful yogis move with physical and visual challenges and while the poses look as varied as the unique bodies within the room, by the time we've repeated the postures six or seven times, everyone's movements are much more fluid and deliberate.

The serendipity of it all? While they are earnestly practicing the sequence and moving in tune with, and in rhythm to, their breath, there are so many imperceptible improvements being made. Maybe another definition of serendipity could be "positive side effects". Advertisements for yoga may start to resemble those of pharmaceuticals:

CAUTION: The practice of yoga may cause your muscles to strengthen and/or increase in flexibility. Prolonged use of certain postures may make it difficult for you to lose your balance while standing, sitting, walking or all of the above. Do not do yoga if you do not wish to interrupt your aging process and/or looking forward to a steady decline in your physical and mental capabilities. Extensive use has been known to cause altered states of joy, peace and tranquility. Do so at your own risk of enjoyment.

Read the New York Times article: Preserving a Fundamental Sense: Balance

Photo: BBC News

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