If you teach children, either sitting or standing, you know that they are fidgety and constantly moving. Our adult response is usually "sit still," "stand still," or "Stop moving." Yet, the body can't actually be truly still while standing. Something called Postural Sway keeps the body constantly adjusting to the effects of gravity in relationship to the body's base. If you've ever taken a picture in low-light and noticed how much you shake (AKA blurry picture), you've experienced your own postural sway. As you also know, stability is one of the greatest challenges of older clients/friends/people- many people over 65 are at high risk of falling, which then sets them up for the potential to have broken limbs/surgeries/etc, which they have a harder time recovering from. What governs these elements of balance?
1. Vestibular system- These are your sense organs in your inner ear, located in the vestibulum. This is the system that gives feedback about balance and keeping the body upright, or maintaining equilibrium.
2. Somatosensory system- This is your body's ability to know where you are in space. Sometimes called proprioception, these is sensed by special proprioceptors in joints. (A wind player's ability to propriocept his or her diaphraghm will be most likely be superior to a desk worker's awareness of his diaphraghm. A string player or pianist will have much more awareness in the hands or fingers then a singer.) In relation to balance, your ability to propriocept the body affects how you respond to imbalance, like walking over unstable ground.
3. Visual system- Visual input to the brain about instability is the third piece of the puzzle here-the information from your eyes goes to your brain and helps shape the possible solutions to the imbalance or situation. (Motion sickness is when there is a disconnect between what is felt in the body (movement), and what is seen (in an airplane/car, lots of outside motion).
If you want to get fancy with finding postural sway in balance, try lifting a leg while standing, perhaps into the yoga pose of tree. Notice the postural sway in the body and how you're constantly adjusting in the ankle, foot, and lower leg. Now try that with your eyes closed-much more difficult! In addition, if you're on less flat terrain, say on grass or on a squishy surface, your proprioceptors are working extra hard to keep you upright. Try both legs and notice the difference between sides. At the end of the day, posture, standing, sitting, and balancing are dynamic processes- our body is always moving!