Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Balance Test

How Long Can You Stand On One Leg?

Here's a simple balance test. How long can you stand on one leg with your eyes open? How long can you stand on one leg with your eyes closed? Try it. Get a stopwatch of some kind. You can use a kitchen timer. Maybe there's one on your phone. I recommend a hard flat surface, but whatever feels right is fine. You can try barefoot or with shoes, you can gyrate, wiggle, hop, whatever you feel like doing as long as one foot is off the ground the whole time. Try it a few times and see what your longest time is.

I have no data to compare your times with so you can see where you stand in relation to other people. I don't think the value of this test is to see how normal or abnormal your results are. I think the main value of the test is simply to show you how long you can stand on one leg, just to allow you to let that information in. A secondary value would be to inspire you to practice this exercise regularly in an attempt to improve your times.

As of February 21rst 2011, I am 53 years old. I did this in the early part of the evening and my best time with eyes closed was about a minute and a half. I did it several times and was mostly in the minute to a minute and a half range. With my eyes open, I stood on one leg for 4 minutes, at which point I stopped because my hip was beginning to hurt a bit and not being used to holding one-legged positions that long, I decided to stop to be on the safe side.

I felt good about my times. Nothing extraordinary, but pretty good for a guy my age.

A bit later in the evening, I decided to try again. My eyes closed times were all in the same minute to a minute and a half range. But with eyes open, this time I was able to stand on one leg for 10 minutes. I found all kinds of interesting positions that rested various parts of my lower body so I could sort of rotate the stress around without any one part getting too sore too fast. When my eyes are open, for me, it's more a matter of stamina, than the act of balancing that is the challenge. My ankles are not my strongest joints. I really sprained my right ankle very badly when I was young and to this day it doesn't quite sit right on my foot, so perhaps I need to use more muscle strength to stabilize it.

I found it interesting that I more than doubled my eyes open time but didn't improve my eyes closed time at all.

I'm going to keep coming at this and see if I can improve my eyes closed time, just by doing it over and over, not trying to figure out any tricks, just letting my body figure it out...I would love to be able to stand for 3 or 4 minutes on one leg with my eyes closed and that does seem within reach. I think the level of grounding and spatial awareness that being able to do this requires would be helpful to me in many ways. So I'm going to see what will happen with more practice.

I'm very curious about balance, especially unforced balance. I teach balance for a living (T'ai-Chi) and it's a big part of my life.

Balance is always important, but it gets more obviously so as we get older, when even a relatively minor fall can cause real and sometimes fatal injuries. Just doing this simple exercise of timing how long you can stand on one leg, eyes open and eyes closed, a few times a week can really improve balance and who knows maybe even extend your life. It's almost certain to extend the life of your vitality in any case.

Do it for one commercial for every half an hour or hour that you watch TV. Or do it while your water is boiling, or your toast is toasting, or your microwave is waving. Just standing on one leg without timing it at all, just to see how comfortably you can do it, is beneficial. If you are elderly or for one reason or another your balance is particularly precarious, I recommend doing this in a kitchen with waist high counters very near by, so there's no danger of falling. Also, try different hand and foot positions and see which feel the most comfortable and stable. And be sure to alternate between your left and right legs so both sides of your body get the workout and balance lesson.

If any of you who live in Ashland, Oregon are curious about this exercise and how to do it better, I'd be happy to give you a donation basis, whatever you can afford including nothing, lesson that will steer you in the right direction. Just email me at mail@gene_burnett.com

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