Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Erika Figge about a subject we yogis know all too well: balance. We’ve all been there. You’ve made it through the warm-up, you’re focused, you’re feeling good and ready to go, you’ve set your intention for an amazing standing-head-to-knee, and then, a few moments later, you fall out, mutter a few words to yourself under your breath, and have to start all over again. Your frustration may start to rise and you might ask yourself questions like, “What needs to change? How can I do this better? What the #$%* happened?”
This interview with Dr. Figge looks to uncover the mystery behind balance and how it can be improved. Dr. Erika Figge DC, CSCS, is a chiropractor with Bloch Chiropractic Wellness and Sports Medicine. She has worked with many clients over the last 13 years and has helped them bring greater awareness to their bodies and improve their balance.
ML: Hi, Dr. Figge, it is so nice to meet with you. I think the students are really going to appreciate the information you share today on balance from a medical perspective and what they can do to improve their practice.
DF: First of all we are living in a Westernized civilization where everyone is wearing shoes. Shoes can be hard and restrictive. When you put on socks and shoes, you totally change the sensory and proprioception occurring in your feet. If you are sitting for most of the day or just wearing shoes, you are not getting normal input from the ground and gravity is not acting on the joints as if you were standing. Feet can change their shape based on the shoes you wear. A great example are bunions. Yes, bunions can be genetic, but they are also a result of the shoes we wear. In other parts of the world, people wear shoes minimally or no shoes at all. If you look at their feet, they actually are different. Their toes are more spread out, their arches are engaged, and this affects their whole kinetic chain. If your feet are strong, so is your foundation, and this will affect everything up the chain to help you stabilize. If your feet aren’t familiar with the ground, they can’t respond correctly and won’t send the necessary information to the brain.
ML: Wow, I love how you explained the importance of strengthening our feet. What else is necessary for good balance?
DF : Glutes and balance go hand in hand. Your gluteus medius is a major player in frontal plane stabilization. Most people don’t have problems standing on two feet, but standing on one foot can create a challenge because the glute does not activate. You are more likely to fall over, and this is not because you don’t have glute muscles. Everyone is born with gluteal muscle fibers. People just need to develop the muscle and the brain has to learn to talk with them. The connection between the brain and any muscle can be strengthened with practice. It’s not going to happen in one yoga class or in one 30-minute session with me. It takes time, but practice can be a total game changer. Your brain ends up learning to talk to your core, then it talks with your glute, and then with your feet. They talk with each other, and over time, you’ll be able to balance for longer periods of time.
ML: So really, it’s not muscular instability?
DF: Right. Most likely, they’re not weak. It’s just that the brain is not recruiting the right areas to balance. Unless you’ve had some kind of trauma, like a concussion, knee injury, sprained ankle, or vertigo, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to have good balance.
ML: What about the head position? We teach to focus on one point in the mirror (otherwise known as the drishti gaze).
DF: When you stare at one spot, you limit the input you take in. On the other hand, the intensity of the balancing exercise you are practicing justifies the intense focus. Out of the yoga room, consider practicing balance with head movements. Moving the head affects the ears and cerebellum. The inner ear has labyrinths, lymphatic fluid, and the nautilus. When these areas start to move, it brings an even greater challenge.
ML: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about balance. This has been an enlightening conversation and I know the West Coast Sweat community will appreciate all the wisdom you’ve shared today.
DF: Of course. You’re welcome. I’m glad it was helpful.
Dr. Figge’s Balance Homework