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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Overlooking This Crucial Ability?

Challenge your sense of proprioception to literally maintain balance.

Proprioception may sound like the super-power of some comic book hero, but it is actually an amazing ability that each of us possesses, one we rarely even think about. If you’ve ever had vertigo or neuropathy, you know exactly what it feels like to lose this crucial sense. You may not be able to “orient” yourself accurately or may “mis-position” yourself as you go about your day. (Quite a few years ago, without realizing I was in the midst of my first bout of vertigo, I jumped out of bed and slammed right into a wall! It would've been comical if it hadn't been so terrifying. Seared into my brain, that memory STILL motivates me to include balance moves in my workouts and allows me to manage symptoms should they sneak up on me. I don't even have to pad my bedroom walls!)

Through proprioception, we “situate ourselves in space.” Proprioceptors—receptors in our skin, muscles, tendons, joints, and more—give us a sense of our bodies being located in specific situations, locations, and conditions. To experience them in action, just stand on one foot, and you’ll feel your ability of proprioception kick in. Note, too, that this skill goes beyond balance—Even if you close your eyes (and most likely wobble as you stand on that one foot), proprioceptors continue to allow you to sense your body in space.

Unfortunately, many of us lose proprioception, sometimes because we simply don’t challenge it. Balance especially declines when it's not practiced. Older adults are not the only ones who could benefit from improved proprioception. Anyone who plays a sport—not to mention anyone who simply wants to potentially avoid falls and injuries— should incorporate some basic proprioceptive training into their routine. And people who sit a lot, which let's face it includes most Americans, are literally not moving their bodies through space; this means we're only practicing proprioception from a stagnant position in a chair. Luckily, it's pretty easy to practice this skill, even just incorporating it in small ways throughout the day.

Here are some really simple ways to improve proprioception:

Stand on one foot.

It sounds so basic, but this move can be deceptively challenging for many people. This is a great one to do at the kitchen sink or in the grocery line—and definitely one you’ll find in yoga class. Also try varying the position of your foot and knee, and then your arms, as you become more adept.

Try some shut-eye.

Aside from sleeping, try occasionally closing your eyes for several seconds or even a minute, for example as you stand on one foot. (Note that this makes balance moves much, much more challenging, so be sure you have something to hold onto if you think you’ll need it.) Even just close your eyes as you sit and try to sense various body parts, a practice often incorporated into meditation.

Work out.

Exercising, especially strength training, reinforces the connection between the brain and specific muscles. This comes in handy when you suddenly need to activate one of those muscles.

Jump! Jump! (if you’re an athlete or advanced exerciser)

Many exercise and sports injuries occur because participants have not practiced landing properly when running, jumping, and making quick turns. This is a crucial piece of sports conditioning trains people to use proprioception optimally. Consider consulting with a qualified trainer or coach to improve your performance and reduce the chance of injury.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels


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