Pivot, Stagger, Regroup, Repeat

Bare feet parallel on hard-surface floor? Check. Left arm extended for balance? Check.

OK, go.

Pivot forward, as if my left hip were a hinge and my right shoulder, hip, and knee were fused together. Stagger and step sideways to keep from falling. OK, that last bit isn’t part of the approved form. Regroup!

Back in starting position, pivot forward again, drop my right hand toward the floor and stretch my right leg behind me. Wobble but carry on. Stop at limits of hip flexibility, which I reach remarkably quickly. Start to return to vertical position. Stagger and step sideways to keep from falling. OK, that last bit isn’t part of the approved form. Regroup!

Dagnab it.

When I finally complete one full manoeuvre sans staggers and side steps, down and back up, slowly and under control, I count “1.” Of 10 such manoeuvres required. On each side. Oh, the joys of bilateral symmetry applied to the single-leg deadlift (I do it *without* the hand weights shown in online videos).

Does this sound like complaining? I hope not.

It would be ungracious to complain about this exercise: After all, I asked my trainer for exercises to improve my balance, which has wandered off somewhere in the last few years.

It would be unreasonable to complain about this exercise: After all, the motion that makes it hard also represents an important advance on the exercise I started with, where I stood around on one foot for a while and tried not to fall over.

It would be unpatient to complain about this exercise: After all, I think I might be getting better at it. Maybe. Sorta. A little.

And besides, this week saw a breakthrough of sorts: not in leg strength or hip flexibility, regrettably, but in technique. I discovered that while looking down at my feet doesn’t help me maintain my balance, and looking down the hall at nothing in particular doesn’t help me maintain my balance, looking at a spot on the floor about four or five feet in front of me does help. When I stare at it all the way down and all the way back up, I stagger less. Hurray!

Maybe as I try to maintain my balance in other endeavours, I can find similar Goldilocks spots: Targets to focus on that are just right instead of being too close or too far away.


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8 Responses to Pivot, Stagger, Regroup, Repeat

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – if you want another balancing act challenge, try doing the field sobriety test that the police apply to suspected impaired drivers. I now find at my current age that standing on one foot for 30 seconds without wobbling is a challenge, but maybe I need to find some place ahead of me to focus on as I wobble.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – I know of the field sobriety test only from TV: not necessarily a reliable source. MADD has a comprehensive video here, although the police officer doesn’t say what he’d be looking for as indicators of impairment. The last bit, standing on one foot with hands down by my side would be tricky for me, cold stone sober. But I expect they have enough experience to distinguish between the wobble of an old woman with poor strength and balance, and the wobble of a young(er) person. Maybe they have an age-adjusted test . . .

  2. Balance issues usually stem from a vestibule problem. Have you had your ears checked lately? Do you get enough sound stimulation in the desert?

    My husband also has felt “unbalanced” and dizzy with an annoying cough, which he self-diagnosed as COPD (already diagnosed). It turns out not to be his lungs, which are in remarkably good shape all things considered, but to be dual ear infections (causing a pharyngeal drip) that are treatable. The doctor recommended “popping” his ears many times per day by holding the nose while trying to “blow,” which tends to open the Eustachian tubes to drain the middle ear. I thought that might be dangerous but the doc says not.

    I recalled that Alfred Tomatis, the famous French otolaryngologist, regarded yogurt as an invitation to ear infections because the bacterial goo can coat the back of the throat and migrate up the Eustachian tubes carrying other infectious bugs with it. Guess whose favorite breakfast, snack, and bedtime treat is yogurt? Changing his menu seems to be helping the ear problem and its cascade of other symptoms. I had considered Tomatis’s advice rather far-fetched but I am having to, uh, eat my words.

    If the vestibule failure is very severe, the brain can be trained to accept sensation through the tongue as a substitute for the ear’s balance mechanism. I know how bizarre that seems but it works! I saw the videos of a woman in that predicament in a conference lecture by the famous Canadian psychiatrist Norman Doidge, who describes her case in both of his best-sellers. He also describes even trickier exercises than yours–adding a rubber ball under the foot you are trying to stand on?!– as helpful to one Parkinson’s patient. Music helps Parkinson’s, which circles back to the vestibular canals and the benefits of music to people with balance problems. And if music could do the trick, I’d take that over having electrodes all over my skull and on my tongue during the rewiring of my plastic brain.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I knew there was a good reason I don’t like yogurt! So glad to have a justification (for others; for me, the taste is sufficient justification). I’m more glad that they seem to have found a root cause and non-invasive/pharmacological treatment for your husband. What you describe sounds to me like the Valsalva manoeuvre, which I was taught to clear my ears on an airplane.

      I don’t think my balance is unusually bad (for my age, dare I say?) but I like the idea of working with music. I’ve seen a video of a physiotherapist working with a Parkinson’s patient. Amazing. And wonderful. I remember reading one of David Brin’s novels (maybe Infinity’s Shore???) with a spaceman character whose language centres were damaged in a crash landing, but who was still able to communicate in song. I thought it was wild, but it seems there’s something to it – maybe a lot.

      • Yes, yes, and yes! I refer my clients to that Parkinson’s video. It makes me wonder if Focused Listening would be as helpful in Parkinson’s as it has proven to be for Alzheimer’s. I haven’t had the time yet to pursue that possibility.

        When I was checking those references in Doidge this morning, I noticed that one of his sources found that treatment was creating new neuronal pathways rather than repairing the old ones, which is another possibility in Focused Listening that I haven’t the laboratory options for testing and specifying. For me, it’s a “try it and see if it works” approach.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Laurna – A lot of our treatments are like that: Try it and see if it works. And where it can’t cause harm (or is super unlikely to), that seems reasonable. Long term, I guess we want explanations; short term, we need relief.

  3. Eric Hrycyk says:

    Isabel…….I am also going through the same challenges with a variety of exercises. I let physio staff know that I am heading south and will have access to a pool. They strongly, strongly, strongly recommend doing all my activities in the pool (strength & balance), and have given me advice on how to make my balance exercises harder, apparently because once in the pool my progress will be accelerated.

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