Dr. Joseph DuChene. Chiropractor
When looking at optimizing yoga performance for the advanced practitioner with a chronic complaint, chronic injury, or something that is not working correctly; and/or for those who just want to improve their practice there are several areas to consider.
What is nice is that most of the things that cause chronic complaints can also prevent optimal yoga performance. Therefore, as the chronic complaints are resolved the opportunity to optimize yoga performance is increased.
One of the first things that I look at is balance. Balance is one of those small insidious problems that you can only really feel once it has severely deteriorated. This is also a very common area that I have seen in my practice for overcoming general back pain, yoga complaints and helping improve performance. So, if you have been trying to get rid of that last part of back pain/discomfort or have been working on a balance related pose, this information is for you.
So the first step in this process is to get a good basic test of your balance. Please note: if your balance is off enough that you don’t really need to test for it, please, get a professional to help you out with this. Finding a Chiropractor that works in these areas can really help in many cases.
I would encourage those who feel they have awesome balance to even try this out. I have caught balance problems on many people who believe they have great balance.
Standing on one leg test:
This is the main balance test that really lets you know how things are doing. It is one of the easiest tests we do here at our office. To do the test we take a look at your ability to stand on one leg. We will start by standing on one leg with the opposite leg flexed to 90°. The goal is to see if you can hold that position, with integrity, for about 15 seconds.
If you can stand on one leg with your eyes open, with integrity for 15 seconds, then you pass the first test and can go on to the second test. If you don’t pass it, then, DO NOT do the next test.
The second half of the test is very similar to the first test. The only difference is that you will do this with your eyes closed. This is usually a lot harder than you think it might be. Please be careful. If you have a balance problem this test will really bring it out. So, to keep safe when doing this exercise, we normally do this close to a door jam and hold your arms out to use the wall for balance if you need it. You should be able to do this for 15 seconds with integrity.
If you have a problem with either of these, then, that is a sign that the nervous system is not functioning at 100%. This could be anywhere from pathology to simple balance retraining. If you feel that you have a problem with balance, please, seek the help of a health professional to move you forward in your health.
If you can pass both of those tests where you’re not jumping, bobbing, weaving and maneuvering to stay on your foot, then you’re doing well. Now if for some reason your balance is not working well for you, what do we do to help fix it?
What’s fun about the test is it is also the exercise. So, in its basic simplicity, if you practice the test, the test will get better. It would be ideal to work these so that you can go from 15 seconds to holding the one leg stance to 30 seconds
Biomechanical problems that relate to balance:
The next thing to assess for a balance problem is an underlying hip, knee, ankle, or foot disorder. Misalignments, muscular imbalances and coordination problems of the lower extremity can cause a ton of performance adaptations and balance related problems. This can get really technical very fast. So, we will go over some real basics here and if you want more info, please, let me know and I can write an article specifically on that topic.
As a Chiropractor we look for subtle misalignments that restrict nerve flow and adjust them back into place. If the nerves in the lower extremity are not working at 100% then the cerebellum and brain cannot process balance correctly. We also see a corresponding decrease in muscle and joint coordination.
The most common thing that I see affect balance is misalignment of the lower extremity. If you have a balance problem, this is the type of problem you want to have. It responds extremely well to Chiropractic adjustments of the spine/lower extremity and supporting modalities. Note: not all chiropractors adjust arms and legs. If this is your case, it is ok to be under care of a second chiropractor that will address arm and leg misalignments.
Another very common orthopedic problem is dropped arches. Sometimes you can see the arch on the inside of the foot drop down to the floor. Some other indications that the arches of your feet are challenged are: bunion formation or an outward turning of the big toe, a deep tenderness in the calf muscles, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendon problems and knee pain/cracking with movement. This is not an exclusive list, just the more common problems.
As of today, there is no real technique or exercise that has been demonstrated to reverse dropped arches. Most of the treatment methods are to take as much pressure off the foot and to support it the best you can to make sure it does not get worse. In my humble opinion, I think the word, yet, is missing. We are learning a ton of new methods to help the body heal and I think we will find a better solution for fallen arches.
Here are a couple things you can do with your yoga practice and at home to help with foot and lower extremity biomechanics.
Please, make sure you are putting the weight evenly distributed throughout your foot and toes, as appropriate for your position. Sometimes we angle the foot in or out to get some balance. This is more common if you work on a spongy or softer surface.
We also want to make sure that as we change from one position to another, we are not putting too much pressure on the big toe or the main knuckle the toe attaches to. The constant outward pressure of the big toe will start to build that bunion on the outside of the foot, as well as, create some pretty good discomfort in the foot and big toe. You can reverse mild deformity with time and effort and take a lot of pressure off of more severe and chronic development. However, best case scenario is to look for the problem before you have to correct something.
If the mobility in the ankle is limited then that will lock the lower extremity when you bend the knee and really challenge your balance. Most people notice this with losing their balance with any squat type movement. Once the ankle locks, the knee cannot move. From there any further movement will push your center of gravity off enough that you will start to fall over. So, how do we find this?
Ankle mobility test and stretch:
I love tests that also double for the treatment. It saves everyone time and is a great way to evaluate progress.
This test starts out kneeling on the floor facing a wall; one knee is bent on the floor with the other knee bent at 90 degrees and foot on the floor. The foot closest to the wall should be about a fist distance from the wall. The goal is to be able to move the knee forward to the wall without lifting the heel off the floor.
If you cannot get the knee to the wall then you can use this to help stretch the calf muscles out. You can also do any other calf stretches you know. Some people respond by using a therapy stick or foam roller to roll out the calf muscles.
I could write a good size book on everything related to balance and performance. However, I wanted to give a couple common things that I see in the office that really helps both the beginner, as well as, the veteran yoga practitioner.
Remember that the quality of your mobility will equal your quality of life. Please, keep great biomechanics and balance in mind with your daily practice and daily routine. Balance issues are something that come on pretty insidious, but can be very easy to head off at the pass. So, if you are having a problem moving your yoga practice or health to the next level, then, please, keep balance in mind.
If you have a specific topic you would like to see covered, please, email me at DrJoseph@DuCheneNaturalHealth.com
Dr. Joseph DuChene