By featured Guest Writer Diana Bailey
It is surprising to find that balance is more often explored and defined by how it is lost than how it is maintained. How do you figure out what something is when it is most often explained by what it isn’t?
In a perfect Pilates world, balance is the dynamic play between opposing forces that allows for responsive, unrestricted freedom of movement. Coordination is the ability to solve the balance puzzle that has been presented with nimbleness and grace. An example of this distinction using an activity would be: Balance is the ability to swim. Coordination is the number of different strokes you can use to swim. Both are amazingly improved with accurate practice.
The most helpful statement about balance and coordination training is that: If the challenge is both purposeful and achievable, the results are phenomenal. Consider how a baby evolves from rolling over, to sitting up, to standing, to cruising, to finally taking the few first steps without the support of furniture. There is never a moment of permanent futility, only repeated efforts to move within a graduated level of difficulty. The sum total of the work is a command over muscle and nervous system. From a child’s view, there was never a question of success or failure, good or bad balance, coordinated or uncoordinated gesture; only curiosity sparked by desire.
Basic Types of Balance Training
Results fuel enthusiasm! At first, balance training that challenges the body’s ongoing ability to adapt and respond while in motion carries great psychological value. Effort is rewarded with quick improvement. Playing with where and how to land while jumping or running is a great example of learning on the fly. This is part of the fun of trail running, stream crossings, dance and gymnastics. Momentum provides the opening to err completely and still possibly recover, or to reset and do it again. This is the essence of over exaggerating to teach: In this case, to build faster, more accurate communication between the brain and the body.
The more the body is allowed to self correct in a manner that builds physical awareness, the better the result.
The next step in the ladder of balance training is holding a single position, perhaps on one leg. This would be much like the childhood game of Freeze. Holding balance absent momentum may be frustrating for some because it actually takes a great deal more strength to hold still. Momentum provides the opportunity to “cheat”, or default to favorite habits of body usage. Devotees of Pilates, Yoga, Dance, and Martial Arts are often challenged with exercises that remove momentum in order to provide the opportunity for the brain to re-establish a conscious link with deep postural muscles. Efficient posture provides the frame for articulate body motion and use. Students discover the inherent value of this work when there is a sudden test. Awareness, and the physical skill to apply it, brings ease and grace to the response.
While genetic and overuse issues can be a factor, falls and resulting injuries are the number one reason for interrupted training, loss of fitness, and even loss of independence. Basic life moments, such as being able to put pants or socks on while standing, descending stairs, crossing icy walkways, or climbing up and down a ladder, all speak to the need for balance and coordination. Including this type of work in daily life as well as your fitness program is easy with a few simple guidelines.