She regaled me with her tale of potential disaster with a smile from ear to ear. It started with her standing on a slippery slope with a hose in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. As she watered her newly planted garden high atop the Oakland Hills, she lost her footing on loose gravel and fallen leaves. In that split second, she miraculously was able to reorient her back foot and catch herself mid-lunge without spilling a single drop of wine. Without a second thought, she stood herself right back up, and realized what had just happened…she had just escaped disaster with her very own strength, balance and agility!
Why, you ask, was this such a momentous occasion? Just one year ago, she had come to me with a similar story that ended in a shattered knee, and subsequent joint replacement. Since that time, and likely even leading up to that point, she had struggled with an intense fear of falling, and a lack of confidence in her own balance and support due to lack of strength. Just one year later, and with an unrelenting dedication to her movement practice, she is able to prove to herself that she has the strength and coordination to maintain control of her own body when faced with these obstacles that inevitably will challenge our ability to remain vertical.
This story inspired me to reflect on what aspects of movement are necessary to keep us upright as we age. Here are just a few of my favorite functional movements that can be accomplished by anyone at home:
1) The Weight Shift
This movement helps with sit to stand, stair climbing, and side to side balance.
Stand in front of a full length mirror with your feet hip width apart, about 6-8 inches. With hands on your level hips,
shift all of your weight over your right leg without losing the horizontal level of your pelvis. At this point, your left foot should still be on the ground but you should be able to tap your foot without having to shift your weight further to the right.
Shift back to center, and then shift all of your weight over your left leg in the same manner.
As you perfect this movement, try sliding your unweighted foot towards your weighted leg, and hover the foot just an inch off the floor for 5 seconds.
2) The Direction Change
These movements increase agility for changing direction quickly, or to catch oneself from falling.
Standing tall with feet hip width apart, step one foot forward and shift some weight into that foot like you are squishing a bug, then step that same foot backward while you squish a bug behind you. Repeat forward and back several times. Next, step that foot out to the side and shift your weight slightly, step that foot back to standing tall.
Now, putting it all together, squish a bug in front of you then behind you, then to the side and back to standing tall. Repeat this pattern several times. Start from the beginning on the other foot. To progress this movement, add a small lunge in each direction.
3) The Squat
This functional movement is integral in everyday life, and assists in building leg strength for an effective sit to stand from a chair or from the floor.
Stand tall with feet slightly wider than hip width, and arms hanging down by your sides. Keeping your weight evenly distributed on both feet throughout, bend at the knees and hips and sit back as if you are attempting to sit in a chair. As you squat, arc your arms forward to shoulder height as counterbalance. Keep your spine straight, and avoid rounding forward as you squat. Return to standing and lower the arms.
As this movement becomes comfortable, speed it up to a quick tempo to increase blood flow and muscle activity. Repeat to fatigue.
Working with a Movement Practitioner with a strong knowledge of biomechanics can help improve your balance, avoid falls, and provide you with the tools for good functional movement throughout life.
Want to integrate proper biomechanics and functional movement into your Pilates practice? Register for ReActive’s upcoming BODY HARMONICS® Certification and Continuing Education courses in Oakland, CA. Visit www.reactivemovement.com/Teacher-Training for more information.
Written by Holly Wallis, Certified Movement & Rehabilitation Specialist
ReActive, LLC www.reactivemovement.com 510-990-1364
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