10 September 2022 - Personal stories
Julie Wrigley, Feldenkrais Practitioner

Becoming More Balanced

My balance troubles

For a couple of years, I have had intermittent balance problems and episodes of vertigo. My visual world starts to move around in an unpredictable way. It spins when I am still. And when I start to walk, it whooshes away from me at speed or looms up big and close. It feels like a horror movie shot with hand-held shaky camerawork.

I find I can’t gauge how far away an object is. So, I crash into the walls when walking down a corridor. I drop mugs and bowls or slam them into the surface when trying to place them down gently on the worktop.

Along with nausea, bodily signs of anxiety come to the fore. I can tell I am holding my breath, clenching my jaw, gripping my neck muscles tight to keep my head super-still. I start to feel emotionally unsteady.

As I fear what may come next, I constrain all of my movements and stiffen up. I feel even more clumsy and more unstable. It becomes a vicious circle.

How I help myself…with the help of the floor

In my lesson – Becoming More Balanced – I share what I do to settle myself down, to find relief and start to break out of this pattern. Listen to the lesson or read below about what I do.

I lie down on a rug to feel the ground. I let go of my weight, let it be carried without me having to apply muscular work to hold myself upright, precariously. I let go of the agendas of daily life – the lists, deadlines and duties.

It is like taking myself back to the simpler world of being a young baby who has nothing urgent to do at that moment She can gaze at the ceiling, move her limbs around to roll any which way, while feeling inside the consequences of what she does.

Next, I bend my knees and place each foot on the floor. I discover which places on the floor feel best for me. Places where I can start to let the floor beneath carry all the weight of that leg.

If I can persuade myself to do so, I let my head rest down fully on the floor. I may add my hands to gently cradle my neck, feel its shape and curve, and sense with fingertip pads where the muscles are contracting when they could be resting. My hands come away and as the lesson progresses, I can let my head be moved and rolled a little in response to other movements. My overworking neck is starting to take a break.

I tilt a knee one way…then the other…to find out how – if I can be passive and not interfere – this tilting rolls my weight across the floor. Now, I can detect new places are travelling, leaning or spreading across the floor, echoing the journey the knee makes above. Each new place where I contact the floor can become a new ‘base of support’ – a new place from where I could feel balanced or from where I could carry on into motion. It becomes like a pleasurable massage.

I make other small, easy explorations with one leg or both. Lifting a leg lazily to see how light it could feel. Letting go a foot back down to the floor to see how heavily and fully I can give the floor my weight. Pressing with one foot to feel the consequences elsewhere. I start to feel a connection between my lower parts and my troubled head and neck far away. Movements of leg, foot, pelvis start to ripple through me to reach my head. I become calmer and more restful.


Improving other mind/body balance troubles

You may be facing your own troubles with balancing – for example, if you have a diagnosis of Ménières disease or vestibular migraine. Sometimes injuries, pain or surgery can lead to an understandably defensive body posture which over time can set in as a habit. If your movements have become a little rigid, lacking in spontaneity and vitality, you may enjoy explorations like this lesson.

At its simplest level, the lesson was for you to:

  • Feel the support of the ground
  • Let go of any intention to try hard, use effort or do things ‘properly’
  • Notice yourself as you move…detect if small amounts of stress, tension or tightness may slowly dissipate
  • Move with more flow and variety – little by little

If you are prone to spending time in your thinking mode – being in your head – then, sensing and moving as the lesson describes can also bring about more mind/body balance. You can experience this a refuge from word-based thinking, relief for a busy, scrambled mind and with the potential for you to uncover new discoveries about yourself.

Further balancing experiments with Awareness Through Movement

There are so many other Awareness Through Movement lessons that offer me scope to discover useful details of how I use myself to improve balance. The ones I am drawn to explore these aspects:

  • Sensing my base of support on the ground in different positions – from safe and easy (lying on my back or side), through to more challenging (all fours, kneeling, sitting, standing)
  • Shifting weight, changing positions – allowing all the parts of myself to be responsive and movable, as I pass through several changing bases of support…and returning
  • Softening and yielding more and more of myself to the floor – to allow a more fluid, expansive sense of breathing
  • Lessons which lead me to organising my upper body to be suspended over the ‘highest point of the hip’
  • Discovering a freer carriage of my head and neck, as tight shoulders give up their work and a static ribcage and breastbone slowly become part of movement
  • Playing with how I use my eyes – at times gently moving them in accord with my movement intentions; at others letting facial muscles relax and the focus of eyes become diffuse and dreamy

Embodying principles of balance

As I grow my experience of Awareness Through Movement lessons, I notice how they often invite me to embody multiple principles of balance. These principles also come with me off the mat and out into the rest of my life.

  • How to use my skeleton as a support instead of relying overly on muscles
  • Developing a facility with moving my attention between the big picture whole and zooming in for little picture details
  • Switching attention from the outside world – my space, environment and other people – to myself and my inner world
  • Exploring a dynamic sense of balance, to shift smoothly from positions of relative rest and poise, through easy, efficient movement and back again
  • Feeling the effects on my autonomic nervous system of different states and styles of stillness and movement

Wider and wilder balance experiments

Beyond Feldenkrais, I like to try other activities to fine-tune my balance.

Even when vertigo is troubling me, I find cycling surprisingly easier than walking. Perhaps it helps that manoeuvres like changing direction and adjusting to ground level changes are smoother for me on a bike.

Cycling gives me the chance to relax and refresh my eyes and cast them to the far horizon – a relief if I have spent too much time inside on close work.

When my vestibular system is working quite well, I take my chances to expand my comfort zone and capacities, to bring the learnings from Awareness Through Movement into other domains.

I remember to include the factors that aid neuroplasticity (our ability to learn anew and change our brain connections at any age) – novelty, attention, meaning and emotion.

Surfing on dry land

Balancing the ball on a rough surface (to slow it down)…holding on with one hand

I have a new toy to help me experience being more unstable and to play with those sensations. The CoolBoard was developed for surfers to practice in winter.

I can calibrate its level of difficulty to avoid arousing dizziness. In the beginning, I started using it like a wobble board – with the board resting on a lightly inflated cushion. Once that was easy, I inflated the cushion more and more to add extra levels of instability.

Now, I have progressed to balancing on the solid ball – which moves the board around even faster and over an even smaller base. The cool kids can jump, dance and lift weights while on their boards. For now, I am practising how to balance up there without holding on to a wall for support. I can tell that trying to master this skill will keep me entertained for a long time to come!

How the cool kids balance

What balancing activities would you find novel enough to engage your attention, enjoyable and meaningful for you? How else may you try to hone your balance?