spinning-topsIn 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 stable posture. The opposite holds true as well – anxiety, frustration, stress, and distraction in everyday circumstances undermine clear thinking and good communication as well as destabilize balance.

That may seem an odd connection; what does postural stability have to do with our mental and emotional equilibrium, and subsequently with how well we perform in non-physical tasks?

Part of the answer comes from brain research on long observed connections between anxiety and unstable balance as well as between anxiety and poor performance.  While most of us are aware of the anxiety/poor performance connection, researcher Dr. Carey Balaban points out that a link between anxiety and balance problems has been noted in medical literature for centuries.

Dr. Balaban and colleagues have uncovered the neural links that underlie the observed connection between anxiety and balance. Our inner ear sense of motion or “vestibular” sense is critical to balance; the researchers have mapped multiple links in the brain between vestibular and emotional processing – including mental alertness, and autonomic activity (e.g., breathing, digestion, and heart regulation).

By uncovering the neural connections among movement, mind, and emotion, the anxiety/balance research helps make sense of the observed connection between stable balance and being at one’s best.  The science confirms what culture has long noted in language – that our internal state shows up in our posture, whether “grounded” or “up tight,” “in a slump” or “standing tall.”