Balance is one of those things most people don't realize they can improve - or even that they might need to improve . . . until they start trying to learn different ways to move.
The fact is most people don't have a problem with balance so long as they stick to normal activities. But when you're outside your comfort zone, things change. Luckily, balance is very trainable. This episode covers our a simple framework for improving your balance step-by-step, with our favorite drills and techniques.
Andy: [00:00:00] All right. All right. All right. Welcome to the Gentle Meat Book podcast. My name is Andy
Ryan: [00:00:07] And I'm Ryan.
Balance Can Be Improved
Andy: [00:00:09] And today we are going to be talking about balance because balance is a thing that some people have trouble with. And it's also a thing that most people tend to assume is an inborn trait that can't be changed or improved. And that happens to be false.
Ryan: [00:00:31] Yeah.
Andy: [00:00:31] Yeah. Most people, I don't believe go through their day thinking, 'Oh man, my balance is really horrible and this is causing me problems.'
Ryan: [00:00:41] Yeah. I haven't heard too many people discuss that unless they actually have some sort of issue inner ear problem or yeah.
Andy: [00:00:50] Right. So most people probably never have time more than they think to themselves, 'I need to work on my balance,' but when we start working on training different skills, trying to expand what our bodies can do and then putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations and outside of our normal ranges and patterns of movement, we find that in those situations our balance does get challenged.
And that's where we hear people say, 'Oh, wow, I tried to do this, but it's hard to balance.' Or, 'I've never really spent a lot of time upside down and I find myself starting to get vertigo or get dizzy.' And, these are the times where balance becomes an issue for people.
So we're going to talk today about a few of the things that sort of make up balance. How you, how balance works, what are some of the things that cause people to either have poor balance or to have challenges balancing in uncomfortable positions? And then we're going to talk about some very, very effective ways that we found to improve your balance.
We've worked with a lot of people on this, help people overcome vertigo, help people improve their single leg balance, hand balancing how people really learn how to be in control of their balance and also just build coordination and balance around stuff too. So it's definitely trainable and improvable.
Ryan: [00:02:11] Yeah. And like you said, this isn't something that too many people think about until they start doing the sort of things that we're teaching here in GMB. It's the, I wouldn't say the biggest thing, but a thing that we do hear a lot about is 'I just started doing rolls or something and I'm having problems, vertigo, finding my balance' or even, especially with the handstand, obviously, cause you're upside down. Little bit different, but, yeah, this is a good topic and one I don't think we've really discussed before, so.
Andy: [00:02:39] I don't think so.
How Balance in Our Body Works
Andy: [00:02:40] So let's talk about first what makes balance, because we have a sense that balance is a sense. There's a sense of balance, but usually when we talk about the sense of balance, we're talking about the vestibular sense, which is, mostly in your inner ear, the cochlear area, and this is mostly, it's like a biological level.
If you've ever seen a carpenter's level with the bubble in there, it's basically a biological version of that. And this is your body's way of knowing whether or not you are upright and sensing, changes in position, and movement of that. That's part of our balance sense, the vestibular sense in the inner ear, but that's not a hundred percent of it because your body, your brain and your nervous system combine sensation from a lot of different areas in order to tell, in order to know where it is.
So we're also coordinating with the vestibular sense, our vision. We're coordinating our proprioception and mechanoreception, our body's joint positioning and sense of movement. And also a little bit of our muscular controller, our body's ability to make fine motor corrections, on the fly to adapt as we move.
Ryan: [00:04:01] Absolutely.
Andy: [00:04:02] Yeah. All these is all part of balance.
Ryan: [00:04:04] Yeah. And then the body has to work together and use all those parts in order to make sure that you are in balance. We're never in balance though. Obviously, gravity and as we're walking around, we're always fighting against that. But especially when you're trying to do something that you don't have the previous experience in doing that, it's going to be like handstands or even single leg type balance. Other things can go wrong as well. Perforated eardrum, that's obviously going to mess up your balance.
I remember when I was younger and, I dove pretty deep when I was in the ocean and actually burst an eardrum, just a minor issue. But I remember that it really messed up my balance, which was a new thing for me, because having grown up, I did gymnastics and a lot of martial arts. So I was used to these kind of movements. And when that happened to me, it was interesting because I had never experienced that before. I guess you could say it gave me a little bit of empathy for people who have trouble, coming into these kinds of movements, like rolls and hand balances.
Andy: [00:05:05] Definitely. And so it is interesting if you find yourself, short-term, a lot of times when people have a really bad cold or pneumonia or something, and it can affect your inner ear pressure and mess with your balance and cause dizziness that way. It can take you by surprise because we take our sense of balance for granted. And that coordination becomes it's what we're used to.
And I think that it's really important to highlight that the way we balance is how we're used to coordinating these things, because people, so for example, we mentioned that we're coordinating our visual senses as well, but blind people are able to walk upright and move around. So it's not saying that if any of these senses is impaired, that you will never be able to balance .
So the central nervous system in the brain is able to coordinate the available information. And so, even when your inner ear, when you perforated your eardrum, it made you mess with your balance and made you dizzy at first but then after a few days, you probably learned to balance better with that. And as you heal then that improves.
And I think that's a very important thing to note is that the nervous system can do a lot with the available amount of information, even if it's not maybe all the possible information. And that gives us a lot of hope that maybe we can improve by training our nervous system to make better use of what it is able to access.
Ryan: [00:06:36] Yeah. And that's the point, right there is to be able to train it and use certain drills and exercises in order to be able to make it better, which is just fun, to know that you actually can do that.
Factors that Affect Balance
Andy: [00:06:48] Yeah. So let's talk about some of the things that cause people problems with balance. There's, you know, we mentioned just a second ago, there might be injuries or there might be short term things like a really bad cold that messes with your ear or something. But there's other things that, will cause more long-term balance problems that maybe you don't realize you have, because you've kind of gotten used to them.
But, what are some of the causes of just like generally poor balance?
Ryan: [00:07:20] Yep. Poor balance. Wow. Yeah. So if we're just looking at, for example, the different parts of the body, if you're looking at not having the experience of being able to perform a movement, like we mentioned earlier, like rolling.
Let me just kind of get into this quickly. As you grow up and you do particular movements or you don't do particular movements, what you're doing is you're actually setting the stage for what's going to be happening later in your life. So these experiences and looking at basically the neural, the neurons and basically training those neurons to be accustomed to certain types of movement is what's going to allow you to be able to do certain things later in life.
Like I mentioned earlier, gymnastics, I started at a very, very early age. Right away I was used to rolling around on the floor, going in the air and doing certain things. And so what I was doing as I was training my body, I was training, not just, as we mentioned before, the visual side of things and it's everything within the body was working together in order to get these experiences and to train the neurons, to be able to be accustomed to those.
Now as I get older in life, this allows me actually to try new things and to be able to perform these movements well, let's just say it, faster and be able to understand what's going on because I do have that experience and the neurons know what they need to do in order to work together. The entire body knows what it needs to do to work together, to be able to do that.
People who don't have that experience later in life, let's say they start to do a new skill or another example would be, for example, I know that some people, when they're doing Brazilian jujitsu, cause I've heard people mention this when they're rolling around on the ground, they actually get dizzy. It's because their body's not used to doing that.
This is where you can find that, even though it's trainable, in the very beginning, a lot of people actually unfortunately just end up quitting because they feel that they can't overcome this. And we didn't talk a little bit about some of the skills and things like, or the drills and things like that we can do.
But again, it's a matter of the body being used to being able to find that balance. Other things, for example, it sounds funny but, glasses. If, Andy, I know you wear contacts and you wear glasses. Being used to wearing your glasses and then taking them off and trying to walk can also mess up with your balance. So for those of you who do wear glasses, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Alcohol, obviously, that's going to mess up our balance too. So it's other ways to look at that, but also injuries. And so another example on my side of things is when I had my shoulder surgery. I had my arm pretty much glued to my side for a long period of time.
And I got used to being able to walk in that certain position. But later when I started going through rehab, my body became, was accustomed to a certain way of walking. And therefore I had to learn how to rebalance my body, to get back to normality. And so many different factors that can happen here, but basically, it all comes back to training and having these experiences and basically teaching the body what it needs to do in order to find balance.
Andy: [00:10:41] So one more thing about that when we talk about what you have trained or experienced and how that affects your, the balance that you have now. We're talking about the central nervous system's ability to regulate the body and to control itself. And I think one of the things that's really important to understand is what is the one thing that overrides your nervous system's ability to function the way you expect it to?
Fear basically overrides any other impulse you have and what happens a lot of times is that people do go upside down and they do experience different movements. But if you live most of your life having experienced these movements primarily in unpredictable, unexpected or scary situations, right? If the only time you've ever felt a sharp drop of more than 10 feet is on a roller coaster or being pushed off a diving board when you were young and never really doing it again.
Well then you're not, your nervous system didn't learn from those because it was preoccupied with trying to protect yourself. And this happens to a lot of people is that they aren't involved in sport or physical activities or a real broad base of PE. And they never get a chance to experience these different movements and movement patterns in a comfortable setting, or maybe even PE was the least comfortable setting that you could have learned some of these things in.
So the, you may think, 'Well, I've experienced a lot of different kinds of movement in my life. I'm not new to this. So why is my balance not as strong as it could be.' It could very well be that you have experienced a lot of things, but it wasn't in a situation where your nervous system was primed or comfortable enough to learn from them.
If you've only experienced these things under stress and under duress, then it's not the right situation. So as we go into the second part of this, you'll see that a big part of what we're trying to do with the methods that we're about to share for improving your balance are controlling your body's stress response, putting your nervous system in a state of comfort so that it can integrate these different sort of information sources from your senses and be able to learn from these things and improve your balance over time.
Before that, I just want to say that this is a topic suggested and requested by our community of people that listen to the show and it's on Facebook. And if you search for GMB Show, then you will find it. This is where you can get your questions answered. And this is a good example of this entire episode is basically an answer to a question from a member.
So, if you like the show and want to have things answered, then that is what you need to look for and where you need to be. So let's get into exercises and improving this. And there's a lot of things that you can do here, but we really want to take this, sort of one sense at a time, and really build it up step-by-step. Anything you want to add starting out, Ryan?
Ryan: [00:13:45] No, that's great. Yeah. And I think the fear factor that you touched on, I think it's wonderful that you brought that up. I actually forgot. So I'm glad that you brought that up, but that's a big thing that the body, it's fight or flight.
And if you can't create a safe environment in order to train these certain things, your body is going to go into that fight or flight mode. And therefore it's really not going to have the necessary and positive environment it needs in order to be able to train these certain things. So, yeah. Make sure that you're doing this at a level that's going to be good for you so that you can get some good feedback while you're doing these. Yeah.
Drills and Techniques to Train Balance
Andy: [00:14:23] Right. Yeah, absolutely. So let's start out first with just your visual sense, because this is something that I think is really, really overlooked by a lot of people. People, when they want to practice balance, they start trying to throw themselves upside down or jumping on one leg and twisting and holding a heavy thing in their hand and doing all these weird things.
But we really want to step back and just like with a lot of our movement training, we want to find the weak link in the chain. We want to find the place where you're lacking something and not just jump to conclusions and give you a hard thing to practice. We want to, we want to fix you at the easiest level possible.
So. Eyes are important. And a lot of us wear glasses, contacts, or have had LASIK or, as you age, my father just had a cataract removed. He's got glaucoma in one eye. These things happen and most of us, again, we take our visual sense completely for granted. It is what it is. And the only thing we really think to do about it is to wear glasses or to have a surgical intervention.
But, I'm not saying, that this will improve your eyesight though it may in some cases, but there's some simple things you can do to improve the way your eyes work. And your ability to make use of visual information. And as I'm going to describe a couple of exercises here that are very simple .
One is just to practice shifting your focus. One way I like to do is imagine holding like a pencil or a pen in one hand and putting that outstretched in front of your face, and then also having maybe 10, 15 feet away from you on the wall. Something else that you look at. And it's very simple focus switching exercise to alternate, focus on the pen, then focus on a picture on the wall.
Then focus on the pen, then focus on the wall. Alternate, however long it might take you, five or six seconds to focus when you shift your focus. But you want to practice, being able to change your focus from near to far relatively easily. And as you get good at this, you'll find that you're able to, the time it takes you to refocus when you shift from near far is quicker.
And so you can do this with both eyes together and you can also do it with each eye individually. It's an excellent exercise. It's something that I started doing for martial art, because, being able to focus on an opponent who was moving and then, where their body is and then where their hands and feet are, which is usually much closer to you is something that I found really useful for me.
Another thing is an eye movement drill that I've also found really useful. For this one, you're not going to move your head, but you're just going to, without moving your head, you're going to look up. Then you're going to look left. Then down, then right.
Then up very simple, then you reverse it. And what you're doing is you're making circles with your eyes, but you don't want to just make circles with your eyes. You want to actually look and try to focus and process the information that you're seeing in these different positions. And again, as you practice these going in each direction and then trying with both eyes and with your each eye independently, you'll find that you're able to begin seeing and processing information a little more quickly.
And this is something that you're not going to see big improvements with immediately, but you can do this over time and there are dozens and dozens of variations of different eye exercises. I don't want to go too deep into this. I just want to give those two: the near-far focus and the eye movements to start trying to process that information.
If you work on these over time, like even twice a week over a month, you probably won't notice anything, aside from that you get better at them, but it will be improving your balance gradually. So that is the first sense that we want to tackle is the eyes. And so then let's talk about adding the vestibular sense to the visual sense by, but now combining two senses together.
Ryan: [00:18:38] Yeah, that's great stuff. And so if we're looking at the inner ear now, so basically there's two different ways that we can, we're going to break this down. We're going to look at it inversions, or we're going to look at rolling. And so a lot of people, when they start off with inversions, they think about getting the entire body upside down.
I would actually ask that you not do that, but gradually work into it. And first just figure out what's going on within your entire body when you start to put yourself upside down. And notice I said start to put yourself upside down. So the great example that we like to use is in our Elements program, where I start off with what we call the A-frame.
If you do yoga, it might look, you might notice, and it looks like a downward facing dog. Basically what you're doing is you're just simply getting your butt higher than your head. And you're looking down at the ground. Now, I want to say something quickly about the eyes as well, because they will come into play whenever you're performing everything else that we're going to be talking about from here on out.
And that is to always try and spot somewhere, whether it be on the floor, whether it be in the wall, when you're rolling, when you're twisting or something like this, you want to have a focal point that you're focusing on. And so in this particular inversion of the A-frame, in this case, looking between your hands, soft gaze, if you will.
So basically you're trying to relax the gaze, but you are actively looking between your hands and then you're just simply bringing your butt up above your head. For some people, this actually might cause a bit dizziness. If you are one of those people, then you can use your butt to adjust the height at which you raise your butt.
You can lower the butt slightly, and you can find a point where you feel comfortable where you're not feeling that discomfort. That's where you start and you just get used to that. It's how long is it going to take? I don't know. It's going to take however long it's going to take, but the thing is this is where you can control the environment in a safe manner.
You're not going into what we talked about before, which is the fear portion of things. You're taking these you're taking, these baby steps rather than simply just kicking upside down and trying to go up into a handstand because that is really going to put you into that fear, that place of fear.
You're not going to be able to have the proper gaze that you need. Your, the focal point is going to be all over the place because you're going to try and catch yourself when you're upside down. So basically you're going to be out of control and out of balance. So once again, inversion start by setting them up in a very easy manner.
And we like to do that with the A-frame because it's controllable and you can focus on whatever you need to during that particular movement. Similarly, the rolls that we teach, for example, in Vitamin, I like to use the shoulder roll, but the thing is, again, we're not just throwing our body over and just trying to do a roll.
Nope. It all starts. Again, with this A-frame position, but you're doing it on your knees. So it's not where you're just trying to do something. You're trying to set yourself up by set yourself up for success by being able to control everything at every stage of the movement. Again, by doing this, working on the inner ear slowly, putting yourself into a position. You're assessing how you're feeling, what's going on.
Where's your gaze? Are you getting dizzy? Okay, great. If not, you can go a little further into it. Can you control that movement? By being able to slowly perform a roll, it's going to allow you to hopefully not be as dizzy as you would if you were to go faster. And so that's the real point here that we're looking at is really trying to control everything where you're going at a speed that's going to allow you to continue to practice this, and then you can gradually speed up that roll, to the point where you find that you're no longer becoming dizzy, when you're doing that particular roll. But again, it all starts with that first movement. In this case, the A-frame, then doing it from the knees. Also looking at the gaze, finding a focal point, not closing your eyes. This is also a big one and, slowly, slowly working through it.
Andy: [00:23:00] Right.
Ryan: [00:23:00] Anything to add there?
Andy: [00:23:01] Yeah. Well, yeah, rolls are really, as we said in the beginning, one of the places where people really first notice that they have a problem with balance or that they're balance just isn't what they want. Or if they have a problem with dizziness or something.
So this is something that it's hard to describe how you would do a slow roll in an audio only format but we have videos on this and it's covered in our Vitamin course. But this is where most people will find they get a lot of value is to step back, do the A-frame, some inversion work.
And like you said, you can adjust how high you are, how inverted you are and just drop back from whatever area you're at that feels uncomfortable. And just take a minute and focus with your eyes and breathe, and you can do the same thing rolling. Take each step of the roll slowly through it and just make sure you're breathing and looking at where you're going.
And over time, you will be able to learn how to make these things more comfortable. So again, we're adding kind of one piece at a time here. We're going from just static, moving to eyes, then adding a change in position with an inversion and then making that a little more dynamic with the roll. So now we're going to change, with a few more different adding some different positions and single leg stuff and positions and movement making it a little bit more complex.
Ryan: [00:24:27] Yeah. And so looking at this position and movement, there are two things I want to take a look at. We're going to look at scales. Andy already mentioned this. And so basically you're just balancing on one leg and then we're going to look at walking.
And so to look at the scales. A gymnastic movement, but let's just call it single leg balance. And all you're really doing is taking your legm one of your legs and extending it in back, so behind you. So you're standing on one leg. Now, when performing this, it's going to be pretty easy in terms of, if you just bring your leg up off the ground, you might be able to, stand there.
But if you've never done this, you will find that you're going to be fighting for balance. What I suggest is taking your shoes off and doing this barefoot. This is going to give great feedback to your feet. It's also going to give you great feedback and it's going to force your toes, the bottoms of your feet, your ankle, all the way up to the knees and the hips to fight for that balance.
This is giving feedback to the entire body's central nervous system is working, trying to figure out what's going on, inner ear is working and as well, you're also going to be using your gaze. So you're still incorporating these eye exercises within there.
When performing these scales, what I suggest is finding one focal point. It might be a few feet in front of you. Maybe if you're in the metrics, a meter in front of you. But the thing is keep your gaze in one position and with your arms out to the side, raise your leg in back and just see what happens with your body.
Now, if you can find that you can be still in this movement, then you can play around. So for example, you can shift your head a little bit. Gaze to the right, gaze to the left. Look up, look down while trying to keep the rest of your body in position. Then you can bring your head back into the position. You can close your eyes. I guarantee you it's a lot different when you close your eyes. Open your eyes and see actually, if your gaze is in the same place.
So this is also interesting where people will be looking at a certain point, close their eyes and when they open their eyes, find that they're actually looking at a different point. So this is another way that you can actually train the gaze and as well as get more feedback by just simply closing your eyes and open your eyes to see what's going on.
So a lot of different things you could play around with this. A lot of people will look at the scale and say, wow, that's just super easy. But in terms of looking at easy or not, just trying to get feedback in order to train and get better at that balance and putting yourself in different positions with that leg and behind you in order to see how you can further improve your balance.
Now, the cool thing is this can apply directly over to walking as well. The majority of us don't think at all about how we walk during the day. And this isn't really to go into depth about how we should walk. It's simply to bring awareness to how you are walking in terms of balance. So little bit difficult to do in the beginning, but try and walk as slowly as you can, and just see what happens. That alone will tax your balance and it can become a little bit difficult when you do that as well. Find an imaginary line on the ground, or if there is a line of the ground, stand on that line, walk the line and then repeat walking on that line and try and do it with your eyes shut.
Okay. The other thing that you can do is add in spins or basically twisting when you're walking. And so you'll walk forward and you'll complete 360 degree turn and try and see if you can continue walking straight. Yeah, once you can do that, but then at the very end, stop, close your eyes and then try and perform a scale. So you're doing, you walk forward, do a twist, you put your leg in back and you do a scale. So here you're actually looking at adding different movements to this pattern and creating a combination of movements if you will. You can further sophisticate that in order to continue working on your training. So these are just two examples of how you can look at position and movement and also incorporate all the other things that we were talking about earlier, especially using the eyes and your gaze in order to help you to get better at this.
Andy: [00:28:55] Yeah. And so this is really kind of our thing is that, yes, you can use balance boards and balls and different things like that. And, the thing about these devices is they're not actually for improving your balance, therefore, balancing on to improve, basically your ankle and knees strength a lot of time in physical therapy or your posture or something like that.
But despite the name, they don't really improve your balance all that much. And you don't need any kind of gadgets or anything to improve your balance. You'll get much more benefit from these exercises that we've described. And remember, definitely just start with very basic things. Don't start where you're already having trouble.
You don't fix, you don't get stronger by running out and trying to lift a car. You get stronger by finding how much you can lift easily and in gradually lifting more by gradually going from there. So it's the same thing with your balance. Don't just try to start, standing on a slack line with one leg while juggling balls of different weights.
That's not the best way for most of us to improve our balance immediately. You have to find the place where you need work and you need to spend time there. Like when we say spend time where you're at. Spend time exploring where you're at and that's how you will be able to move beyond that. So, want to wrap up with one thing related to balance, our one secret technique.
Andy: [00:30:32] We've alluded to it a few times with this, but with balance and with just about anything else. It's really important to be able to be aware of your kind of nervous system state, and just know if you're stressed, if you're relaxed or if you're able to do things. And so if you find yourself having trouble with balance, one of the things that we find people are almost always doing is holding their breath. So Ryan, what should we do instead?
Ryan: [00:31:00] Super secret technique, it's going to blow you away, is smile. That is the big secret technique. I use this a lot when people, when they're doing handstands because people tend to hold the breath. And all I ask people to do is simply smile. And I'm talking like not pursed lips or anything I'm talking like actually show your teeth a little bit, by doing that, you will breathe naturally and will not hold your breath, which will cause tension that because that's what we don't want to happen.
Andy: [00:31:30] Right. We're talking the kind of smile that makes people get up and move to the next subway car.
Ryan: [00:31:35] Yeah. Yeah. You want to make people uncomfortable with your smile. That's what we're after. Okay? So, yes.
Andy: [00:31:42] All right. Well thank you for listening and, go out there and make friends
Ryan: [00:31:46] Be sure to smile.