Balance Science

Fear and Falling

Olympic gold medalist Pekabo Street, 1998 winner of the downhill in Nagano, once told a reporter, “Fear is the number one enemy when you’re racing; when you’re afraid your center of balance is back, which is very detrimental to your health.” Detrimental, indeed. Scientific studies or freeze.” The fear response can include a reflexive backward shift of weight away from the precipice and a stiffening of muscles. The combination of leaning back and stiffening up makes us less stable and at the…

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Freedom

“I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up for class!” Karen, a participant in a recent Minding Your Balance™ class, went on to say that she thought the training would involve things like standing on one leg and core strengthening exercises — a reasonable expectation given that we tend to think of balance as a strictly physical endeavor. While balance obviously is physical (and standing on one leg does take place in classes), balance involves more…

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Where’s Your Vestibular Labyrinth?

A friend recently sent me a video of her one-year old granddaughter proudly pointing to her nose or eyes or ears when asked by her encouraging parents to find each of these “sensory portals.” One of the head’s senses, though, went missing from the list – the eager young parents never queried, “Where’s your vestibular labyrinth?” Out of sight and reach, the vestibular sensors in the inner ear remain out of mind, even as they provide sensory information essential to…

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Navigation

A ride on my shiny new bicycle provides a mid-afternoon break from writing, as I navigate my way through side streets and open-space trails on a warm fall afternoon. The short respite shakes the cobwebs from my mind, and I return to the task of navigating through the tangle of research studies that inform my writing. Besides enjoying any activity that involves navigating through the environment (bicycling, skiing, dancing), “navigation” is on my list of favorites words because it exemplifies…

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Standing Tall

In Ki-Aikido training, a simple test of balance – done with a firm push by the instructor on a student’s shoulder or back, serves as “no-tech” biofeedback about a person’s internal state:  Stable posture correlates with a calm, clear mind that supports best performance; unstable posture correlates with distraction and/or distress and suboptimal performance. The same holds true off the mat; a calm focused mind in daily life not only results in clearer thinking and better communication, it also correlates with more…

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Dizzy

Why is it that dizziness happens in the head but makes us unstable on our feet? Blame the vestibular system – the sensory system that perceives our motion in space in relationship to gravity.  The sensors themselves are located in the inner ear, but the information they provide is critical to perceiving and maintaining our vertical alignment with gravity as we move around in the world. And that matters for more than not falling down. Gravity affects every breath we take,…

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Neural Knitting

In 1906, the father of modern neuroscience, Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, described the central nervous system as “an organ of coordination” that “knits together” the many separate systems of life into a solidarity – a coordinated response of the whole. Shin Shin Toitsu is the Japanese name for the style of aikido I have practiced and taught for over thirty years. Translated into English it means “heart, mind, and body threaded together as one.” The words echo Sherrington’s — the recognition not…

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