Balance Is A Two Part Training Game
There are two primary reflexes responsible for keeping your balance. They are called righting reflexes and tilting reflexes.
Righting reflexes help you to find your balance when standing, or moving, over a stable surface below you. This would be the primary reflex when practicing yoga or running through the city. Tilting reflexes work on a different system. They are responsible for helping you keep your balance when standing or moving over an unstable surface. This is the reflex that is activated when surfing, skateboarding or running on a wet and slippery field.
Because each reflex is responsible for maintaining balance in different environments they need to be trained in different ways.
Righting reflexes are more common and more active in most activities. It's the righting reflex that allows you to stand up on two feet and walk around through your day to day activities. The anatomy of the inner ear helps us keep our balance when the stable surface under us changes. For example, walking up a steep hill. The body is able to sense the grade change and lean forward into the hill to maintain balance over the center of gravity. This reflex also works to keep the head up and level on the neck. This was historically beneficial because there was an evolutionary advantage to always have our head up and eyes on the horizon, in order to see prey and predator.
To train your righting reflexes you place your body in different positions over a stable surface. For some people, it can be a challenging task to simply stand on one foot. For simple to practice moves that you can do at home check out this video by wellfitpersonaltraining https://youtu.be/rO0UIyjfFjw. In the video, they show how to progress your balance training through a series of exercises including:
Single leg balance (eyes open and closed)
Standing single-leg toe touch
Single leg partner ball catch
As yoga students balance training using our righting reflexes is a part of most sequences. Warrior III, Tree Pose, Dancers, Dancing Shiva and many others put the body in different positions over a stable surface on one leg. The Anterior Tibialis and Peroneus Longus muscles work to stabilize the ankle and lower leg in these poses. The next time you practice Warrior III look down and you will see your ankle rocking gently from side-to-side. This is the constant contract-relax balancing of these two muscles working together to stabilize the leg.
To train tilting reflexes we need to put the body in a position on an unstable surface. These reflexes are not as active in most
day-to-day activities but can still be very important, especially for athletes, since they improve our overall kinesthetic awareness and body control.
Common training tools for tilting reflexes include balance discs, bosu balls, swiss balls, and wobble boards. These pieces of equipment can be used to progress students from more stable to less stable over time. Further challenges can be made by adding more hand-eye coordination or dynamic movements. Here is a brief video that outlines some tilting reflex exercises. https://youtu.be/CghEPdnrMV4 including:
Standing on a Bosu (try single leg)
Two foot hop and hold on bosu
One foot hop and hold on bosu
Bosu ball partner ball throw
These are just a few of the exercises that can be done. For a greater challenge, you can try balancing on a swiss ball or wobble board. For anyone who participates in sports where the surface under them is not stable (most X-games activities) this type of training is hugely beneficial.
We don't see this type of training in yoga sequences but it can be skillfully integrated with the proper equipment. For example, you could have a class practice Tree pose while standing on a balance disc.
Balancing is an activity that we don't often think much about until we are in a situation where we feel unstable. Training your righting and tilting reflexes will help you traverse the various environments of your life with greater skill and confidence. Training balance will also reduce the risk of injury when participating in recreational activities. For more on tilting and righting reflexes be sure to check out our IGTV and YouTube Channels.