In  this week’s class we explored the simple action of balancing on one leg – and soon discovered don’t need to tie ourselves into vertical knots to challenge our stability.

We can make it harder just by turning a leg out to one side, or moving the gaze by rotating or looking up. Or finally, the greatest challenge, closing the eyes.

To manage this task your nervous system has to be on its toes, repeating three key steps: monitoring your position, calculating any necessary corrections, and then directing these adjustments using the muscular-skeletal system.

For example, if you turn your head to look up, your eyes collect data about your position to help determine your position in space. The semicircular canals, which are balance organs in the inner ear, also help you find “up” by feeling the downward pull of gravity. And pressure sensors on the bottoms of your feet detect which way you are tilting.

To indicate body position, nerve endings in your joints signal the angle of your limbs, trunk, neck, and head. Nerve endings in your muscles and tendons detect force and stretch, and others in your skin detect stretch and pressure.

From masses of data, the brain works it all out and makes continual adjustments to maintain stability and prevent a fall.

As we tend to over rely on our eyes in everyday life, one important part of yoga is working on the other key factors involved, such as strength and focus.

Taking it to a higher level of the nervous system, emotions also come into play. Are we calm and focussed enough to focus? Can we ignore other people around us, and not be self critical?

Here are some balancing tips when you first start out:

•            Do one-legged balancing poses on a firm, level surface.

•            It’s easier when you aren’t tired, or at the beginning of a class.

•            Keep your gaze gently fixed on one point.

•            Have a wall or chair nearby for support.

•            Zip up gently and use your core muscles.

•            Keep the knee of your standing leg slightly bent.

•            Put extra weight on the outer edge of your standing foot.

Then as your balance improves, you can cut out these techniques one by one.