An Essential Kind of Balance

There are many forms of balance, including moderation, poise, and equanimity. Let’s talk about a physical form of balance with a fancy name: Proprioception. Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to know where it is in space. Not in the sense of being in the Milky Way Galaxy, but rather in relationship to the ground beneath our feet. It is a sophisticated form of balance that enables us to stand upright or walk on a beam, thereby freeing our hands to engage in all sorts of “non-monkey” business.

Proprioception is facilitated by a vast network of anatomical parts, including several types of specialized nerve endings (located in muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and skin), the eyes, the inner ears, and the central and autonomic nervous systems. An intact proprioceptive system is essential for maintaining health and avoiding disease because it provides the guidelines and boundaries for movement, thereby reducing fatigue and degeneration while avoiding injury. For example, if you’re walking down a hillside, your proprioceptive system coordinates the adjustments your body makes in order to stay upright. Thankfully, most of this information is processed subconsciously (because we all have enough on our minds already ;). However, our thoughts and emotions do affect the proprioceptive system. If you’re walking down the hillside in a foul mood, you’re more likely to stumble and fall—and land face first in a mud puddle—then if you are whistling a joyous tune and counting your blessings.

The complexity of the proprioceptive system makes it vulnerable to injury or dysfunction if compromised. Again, picture yourself walking down that same hillside but now you’re wearing a blindfold or your feet are numbingly cold. A key component of the system—the eyes or nerve endings in the feet—has been deactivated and suddenly making your way down the hillside is more difficult and your chances of falling or pulling a muscle from an awkward movement have increased. More serious insult to the proprioceptive system can be caused by restrictive footwear (high-heels/cowboy boots), old injuries/scar-tissue, tight or weak muscles, poor posture and general inactivity.

So besides avoiding blindfolds and keeping your feet warm, what are some ways to maintain and enhance your proprioception?

• Stay active. Regular movement and exercise are essential for keeping the proprioceptive system tuned-up. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are some of the safest, most beneficial activities around.

• Stand straight. Don’t sit too much and be wary of your posture. Staring down at your “smart” phone might not be so smart for your body.

• Get adjusted. Chiropractic adjustments are scientifically proven to normalize joint alignment and muscle activity in both the spine and extremities. A balanced structure leads to improved function in all bodily systems.