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Sensory Tools: Balance (Part 2)

Sensory Tools: Balance (Part 2)

By Shane Sauer

Balance is important to everyone.  From the time you learn to walk, your brain puts a lot of energy and resources into making sure that your head doesn’t hit the ground.  The most impressive tool your brain has for maintaining balance is your vestibular system, or inner ear.  If you saw part 1 of this blog, you know that your brain is always receiving signals from your inner ear.  If those signals become inaccurate or if your brain has trouble interpreting them, your balance can be compromised.  And, believe it or not, this can happen due to a concussion or even a bad cold!

With all the events that your body goes through in a lifetime, doesn’t it make sense that your inner ear gets a little out of whack with age?  And wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to reset the system before your balance gets so bad that you have to walk slow, wide and bent over?

Good news, there is!  You can train your vestibular system just like you can train the other tools in Your Brain’s Toolbox.  Here are a few simple drills that will get your balance back on track.  What you’ll need for all of them is an object to focus on.  It could be an object in the distance or you can hang a vision chart on your wall.  Just make sure you’ll be able to recognize if it goes blurry.  (For the purposes of these descriptions, assume you’re using a letter from the chart.)**

  1. The Head Turn –  This simple exercise can be surprisingly challenging.  Start with a nice wide stance, about shoulder distance. While looking at the letter, turn your head quickly to the side.  The turn should be less than half the full distance your head can turn.  If the letter gets blurry, slow down or sit down and work your speed or position back up over time.  If not, consider a more challenging position (feet together or on one leg) for the drill.
     
  2. The Head Glide – Step your feet wide apart, about 3 to 4 feet. You want to be able to shift your weight back and forth by lunging from one leg to another.  Before you start shifting, make sure that are focused on your letter.  As you shift from side to (without turning your head), the object should be clear.  If it isn’t try moving slower.
     
  3. The Bounce – While standing still with your feet under your hips, keep your eyes on your letter.  Start bouncing up and down on your toes.  As with the other drills, the object should stay clear the whole time. If bouncing is too intense, try small squats.

Each of these drills works a different part of the inner ear. It’s important to make sure that your brain can interpret the signals from each one of them, so be sure to try them all.

Often, people think that they'll improve balance with an exercise like standing on one leg. But your balance is controlled by three different tools—your inner ear, eyes and proprioceptive system (my next blog). You may need to strengthen one or all of these three systems separately before you do exercises that challenge them all together.

** Remember from part one that inner ear issues can cause nausea or vertigo.  If you feel sick or dizzy while trying these drills, stop immediately and consider regressing the drill once you feel better or speaking with a professional.

Check out this video that exapnds on and takes a deeper look at the information presented in this blog.
You can find also find other videos from MATRIX Personalized Fitness on YouTube.