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By Robbie Ofir, PhD, PT
No, we are not talking about balancing checkbooks, though yes, I do have that problem occasionally. We are talking about that special vertical relationship we have with the ubiquitous force of gravity: yes, the one that is responsible for the collection of bumps on our otherwise perfectly-shaped domes, whenever that relationship becomes dysfunctional and we go down with a crash.
Now, controlling balance involves many systems in our body all working in concert, one with another. In broad outline, these are: the visual, the vestibular, the internal milieu, and the somatosensory systems. We’ll first touch upon one common mechanism affecting balance. Maintaining an upright posture requires movement In fact, it is impossible to remain upright without some amount of movement. Whenever movement is restricted, we add to our collection of bumps.
Witness the famous guard at Buckingham Palace. Whenever he tries to stand immobile for an extended period, internal fluid flowing downward reduces pressure in that by-now-infamous dome, he gets dizzy, nauseous, faint, and down he crashes, hopefully with his helmet still on.
Upright standing over a stable surface is not stable. Measurements using force plates have demonstrated conclusively that we sway, albeit imperceptibly, in a figure eight configuration over our base of support formed by the area enclosed by our feet. The sway is caused by a continuous synergistic flow of contraction/relaxation of the leg, ankle, and feet musculature, which by timed contractions, assisted by the array of valves in the veins, helps pump blood back up to the heart and head. If insufficient blood (oxygen and glucose) reaches the brain, the sway increases until the center of gravity of that poor guard tilts beyond the boundary of his base of support, and oops, I just heard another thud.
Now, if that hapless guard had done some Feldenkrais® work, he would have been aware that he was holding his upper torso in rigid, military style, and the slightest sway beyond his narrow base of support would put him in the unenviable position of the Tower of Pisa. If a Feldenkrais teacher happened to stroll by and notice his predicament, he/she might offer our guard the following quick Awareness Through Movement® lesson, which could help him and all his guardhouse pals.