Tree pose, known as vrksasana in Sanskrit, is a yoga staple used to promote balance and centering. I was always quite good at it, until suddenly, I wasn’t.
After a few months away from the gym I was struggling to stay upright on one leg, failing miserably to “ground myself” as they say in yoga circles. To make me feel better, my instructor Julie soothingly said, “It’s natural for trees to sway in the wind a little.”
As we age, balance can be one of the first things to go. A decline in sensory input (vision and hearing) coupled with less strength in our muscles and joints means we get off-kilter. But that doesn’t have to happen.
“The key is to practice balance as part of your workout routine, making it a priority along with improving your cardio and your overall strength,” says fitness expert Peter Estabrooks. “It’s like any skill. If you’re not writing with a pen and paper you lose your penmanship. It’s the same thing with balance.”
Estabrooks, founder of The Fitness Guy, a fitness centre in Calgary, lists several exercises that will improve your overall stability:
Stand in your bare feet. Lift one leg off the ground and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Then try it with your eyes closed.
Stand on one foot and pick something up off the ground directly in front of you. Switch legs and repeat 10 times on each leg.
Sit in a kitchen chair and stand using one leg. Lower yourself slowly back down, using the same leg. Switch, and repeat five times on each side.
“The muscle we’re targeting most is the brain – balance’s command centre,” says Estabrooks. “As we age, we often lose the ability to know where our body is in space, and that in turn can lead to nasty falls. So many people end up spending the last part of their lives injured. The ability to balance well – even if you do fall – significantly decreases the chances of hurting yourself badly.”