Column, Funologist

New balance: A little mindfulness goes a long way

By Sandra Dee Owens

Once upon a time, I was 52 years old. One morning, as I bent over to sock a raised foot, I noticed I was less steady than the day before. And just like that, I felt a new and lesser level of balance try to insert itself into my life.

I lowered my foot to the floor, and standing upright, heard an internal voice say, “You are getting older, you should sit down to put your socks on, so you don’t fall over.”

By Sandra Dee Owens
Practicing balance will help improve it. It doesn’t take much but does require mindful attention and willingness.

Recognizing the voice of (what I call) a gremlin, I knew I had a choice.

I could take the easiest route and follow this sensible-sounding gremlin down the path of decline and “I can’t” filled speech. Such as, “Oh, I can’t do that, my balance isn’t so good anymore.”

Or, as I knew from experience, I could listen to a different voice—the voice of my built-in physician/advisor, (what I call), my wild voice. My wild voice always has my best interest at heart and encourages me to be as strong as I can for as long as I can.

So, it was a simple choice, but “simple” is not the same as “easy.” “Easy,” requires no effort, but “simple” does. Fortunately, I see “effort” as a positive, not a negative.

Standing straight, with both feet on the floor, I addressed this “new balance” gremlin immediately. I told it I would not be sitting down to put my socks on—and I told it to scram.

Then I began thinking of mindful, simple ways to take back, retain and increase what the gremlin had tried to steal from me—my balance.

Walking to my bedroom wall, I turned and pressed my back against it. I relaxed into footbridge pose, raised one knee, and interlocking my fingers around my raised shin, with kindness, pulled my knee to my chest.

In a state of mindful awareness, I noted a bit of confidence return to me as I performed this simple, balancing-stretch. Rather than ignore or take its presence for granted, I imagined inviting confidence to fill the void the gremlin left—on its way out.

I had traded an unwelcome guest for a welcome one.

Bending to pick up my remaining sock, I repeated this balancing-stretch, and socked my other foot.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single—thought.

The next morning, I repeated this maneuver—without leaning against the wall.

And just like that, I set in motion a reversal of what would have been a great loss. I did it first in my mind, where all journeys begin, then in my body. A

nd from that day forward, I added mindfulness-based movement to my daily life to maintain (and improve) balance.

While choosing to listen to my wild voice over the negative influences of the gremlins is not always easy, being mindful of the gremlins means I detect their presence—early. And after all, isn’t early detection a well known path to wellness?

Footbridge is a foundational movement of “snowga,” my mindfulness-based, calisthenic/yoga movements that create warmth from within. Originally designed for snow swimming (what I call my run, swim, run style of cold water swimming), I practice snowga year-round for improved balance, strength, and flexibility.

Here’s a short footbridge practice:

Stand barefooted, feet hip-width apart. Let your gaze soften, and allow your shoulders, jaw, and mind to sink, down, down, down with the natural weight of gravity.

Focus on the bottoms of your feet. Relax and press your toes, ball, arch, and heels into the floor. Press down on the slender, arched, bridge bones (Phalanges) that connect your toes to your foot. Have you ever noticed that these rigid arches rarely touch the floor, your shoes, or the earth?

Did you notice your foot widen? How does it feel to have the sole of your foot solidly connected to the floor? What would it feel like to do this outside on the grass?

When you are ready, stand tall, lengthen your spine, and slowly inhale (through your nose) more deeply than you normally do. Hold your breath for one or two seconds, then exhale (through your mouth) slower than you normally do.

Repeat a few times.

Focus on allowing your breath to simply fall out of you, rather than blowing or pushing it out.

Now, with childlike imagination, pretend your legs are the trunks of small trees and envision roots exiting the soles of your feet and descending deep into the earth. See them wrap around a large boulder with your name carved in it.

How do you feel? Practice footbridge anytime you want to feel more balanced, grounded and connected—or just want to tell a gremlin to scram.

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