What is Balance Awareness?
Balance awareness is a movement technique that combines two crucial aspects for everyday life: balance and awareness.
Balance - the ability to respond and keep the body upright in unexpected situations where the body is pushed out of alignment (for example, when bumping into something or when standing on one leg).
Awareness - this speaks to conscious movement. Awareness leads to new neural connections and helps preserve brain plasticity.
The emphasis on these two practices is important for everyone and becomes especially significant as one ages. The technique is also very suitable for people that are not able to get down to the floor and get up by themselves.
When repeated practice is performed, an intimate connection with the body is formed. Practice leads to an understanding of the body’s abilities, limitations, range of motion, and the relationships between its different parts. These help the body respond to different situations more accurately and deliberately.
Additionally, because practice is performed in seated and upright positions, the body learns how to move while experiencing the force of gravity and through the active use of specific muscles, situations that mirror everyday activity. This makes it easier for the brain to transfer what is learned in the lessons to everyday life, especially in giving more effective solutions in situations when balance is lost.
With time and observation of the people with whom I work with as a Feldenkrais instructor and as a personal trainer for seniors, I began to understand that balance, or rather the loss of balance is like a mirror that reflects the adaptation ability of a person to the physical and mental changes that occur as the years pass.
As we age, our flexibility and ability to strengthen muscles lessens (which forces more work for the same results that were possible in the past). With aging, the time it takes the brain to respond to new stimuli increases, which causes the general motion of the body to slow.
Additionally, most of the actions that we perform daily are done through habits. These actions are performed in correspondence to neural connections that were made beforehand, a practice that saves the brain energy as it does not require forming and using new connections.
The problem with habits is that the brain tends to reduce the number of connections it uses for the commonly performed actions. This, in turn, encourages the deterioration of muscles that are not in direct use, causes a decline in the significance of brain functions, and decreases the body’s ability to respond to new situations it is not used to, such as stepping on a stone while walking or the need to skip over a puddle.
Staying balanced is a complex process involving action, consciousness, and the minute response of muscles and the brain to changing scenarios. If the response range of the brain is lessened, it cannot respond in an accurate manner and send the right signals to the correct muscles. Furthermore, if the muscles themselves are not strong enough, even if they respond to the loss of balance, they will not have a sufficient ability to restore balance.
In the past, it was common to think that the decrease in the connections inside the brain was an integral part of aging, yet in recent years new research showed that the brain is incredibly malleable and able to create new connections throughout a person's entire life. This is called brain plasticity.
In ‘balance awareness’, every lesson is different from its predecessor. This challenges muscles and joints in new ways, for example staying balanced while leaning forward requires the use of muscles and brain connections differently compared to when leaning back. The same muscles may be in use, but they are put into a different use than before.
On top of that, every lesson is a process developed methodically. The beginning incorporates simpler motions while sitting, and as the lesson progresses, motion in new directions and with different muscles and joints is added in increasing complexity. This process is not only represented through actions, but also through the deepening of brain connections in the corresponding areas of the brain.
The aim is to expand the ability of the body and the brain in unique ways to enable responses to different scenarios and situations while also increasing balance in everyday life.