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Monday, September 18, 2006

Balance and the eyes

Today, a colleague of mine was describing an exercise in his yoga class:
  - stand on one foot
  - pull the other foot up to mid-thigh
  - hold the hands, palms together, above the head
  - hold the position for 5 seconds, then close your eyes
Apparently, it was supposed to be "difficult to balance" with the eyes closed. Sure enough, the eyes are commonly used as one of the auxiliary instruments of balance.

The eyes observe where the body is in space (i.e., upside down, right side up, etc.) and also the directions of motion.

From BBC's Science & Nature,
To keep your balance, you don't only rely on the two sensory organs in your inner ear. Your eyes also deliver important information about your body's position, as do receptors in your muscles and tendons.
[Reference: BBC Science & Nature: Human Body & Mind.]

Much of skating, it is about being able to "feel the balance". That means, training the sensory receptors in our muscles and joints to play a larger role in balance. We should be able to look anywhere (or even shut our eyes) and still be aware of where we are and where we are going.

How many times have I been told (and told my students) not to look down?
We look down because it helps us observe where we are and where we are going. It give us comfort. It gives us immediate reassurance that we are still standing! Forget the fact that it is not necessary - we have gotten so attuned to it that we do it.

Really, it is just a bad habit!

It is really not so much about "not looking down" as it is about "keeping the head up". Keeping the head up maintains the alignment and posture that makes it easier to balance.
Remember, the ice is less forgiving than the ground!

PS: For the record, I did keep my balance in that yoga pose.

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