Children, teenagers and old people fall over more than those of us in the middle ages. The teenagers I teach fall over frequently. Many of them retain a willingness to fall without seeing it as an insult to their dignity – in fact they enjoy falling over in class, and love to see their friends fall over.
They don’t fear falling as adults usually do. One of the things you might learn through yoga is to reduce the fear of falling. You will also reduce your chances of falling outside the class as you build strength and improve the sense of proprioception.
Why don’t we fall over all the time? To balance, to stay vertical, to move accurately and gracefully, to put one foot in front of the other, we use three systems. The eyes, the inner ears, and most excitingly, proprioception. In my yoga classes we try to work consciously on improving our balance, particularly proprioception - it's a tremendous word, and because it is relatively new to my brain though not my body, it is my favourite sense.
There are proprioceptive receptors in the muscles and tendons, and in the connective tissues of joints. These take in information about their position relative to other receptors and about the forces moving through them. This information flows through the central nervous system to the brain.
Then we form an unconscious body map or schema (another great word) which changes as we move. Unlike the 'traditional' five senses, it works on internal information. Kinesthetic awareness is similar and strongly related, but works with external information – an example is a group of dancers moving together.
The proprioceptive explanation for teenage instability is that growth spurts temporarily confuse the system, so the body map is not as accurate. Our proprioceptive ability often declines with age, and this is one of the reasons older people are sometimes unsure about how to move and place their feet. Many drug regimes, for example cancer treatments, impact the nervous system, and so damage proprioception.
I’ve done a bit of research (googling) and am sad to discover that not everyone agrees it's possible to deliberately improve proprioception, but the physiotherapists and other health professionals I work with believe we can. We can also improve the strength we need to stay upright, for example in the ankles and core. From my personal experience and by watching students over the years I know that we can improve our ability to balance, and to move accurately, with confidence and with grace, and that this change flows from the class to life outside it.
Again, it’s about getting to know yourself better, and developing an understanding of your stability. Maybe even laugh at falling over every now and then.
To read more articles about yoga and meditation, and to see the illustration for this one, go to www.yoga-with-your-slippers-on.blogspot.co.uk/