Yesterday, at the gym, my trainer put me through a mini ‘circuit training workout’.
For those who are unfamiliar with the gym regimens, a ‘circuit training workout’ consists of performing a set of exercises, chosen by the trainer for the workout session, one after another in quick succession. The chosen exercises are performed with no rest in-between successive exercises. Completion of all exercises is considered a circuit and as decided by the trainer, 2 to 5 circuits are completed in a single ‘circuit training workout’ session. Circuits are designed with specific fitness goals in mind.
In today’s session, the circuit included the following exercises: free squats, static squat hold, extended arm rotation, standing bicycle crunches, lunges, lying ab crunches, spine extension (cobra stretch) and finally, balancing on one leg with eyes closed. For each exercise in the circuit, the trainer had prescribed specific number of repetitions (reps). I repeated the entire circuit itself, 5 times.
Of these exercises, the toughest and the most unnerving for me was the last one, which was ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’ or ‘one-legged balancing with eyes closed’. You do not have to imagine how the trial looks, you can see the picture below instead:
One-legged balancing posture (Source: http://skm.me/sw/tC)
For each leg, I could manage to hold my balance for barely 4 seconds. I tried all sorts of posture variations like stretching my arms sideways (parallel to the ground), partially extending my arms sideways (at approximately 45 degrees from my body), resting my palms on my hips etc. Nothing seemed to help me go beyond 4 seconds, that too with struggle. However, with my eyes partly open, I could manage about 9 seconds. With eyes fully open, of course, I could stand for 15 seconds on each leg. Another striking experience was, when I was balancing with eyes fully open, I shut my eyes in the middle and the moment I blinded myself, I started losing balance and did not last for more than 4 seconds thereafter.
Now you may be wondering “What does this mean to me, you or anyone for that matter”?
In our daily physical existence, every moment – be it in lying, sitting, standing, walking or running posture – our body performs an amazing act of balancing and coordinates an intricate teamwork among brain, eyes, ears, muscles, nervous system, joints and bones. Many of us take life for granted and go through our daily motions, blissfully careless about our bodies, their complex mechanism and highly intelligent functioning, until we run into an exceptional situation like the ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’, when our bodies falter and fail. They signal to us something critically important and if we refuse to pay heed, we would surely be scripting a painful epilogue for our life.
In this backdrop, let us see, what this 4-second struggle for the ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’, means to us.
Various studies have independently established that the balancing duration ranges from 30+ seconds for a youth of ’30 years and below’ up to 4- seconds for an old person of ’70 years and above’. Conversely, if you and I are able to stand unshaken for barely 4 seconds in the ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’, we are equal, in strength, reflex, coordination and overall balance, only to an old person of 70+ years, regardless of our actual age. If we hold our balance for 15+ seconds, for example, we are equal to a 40+ year-old person.
So, in the process of trying and failing to hold my legs and body still, today I actually felt feeble and infirm like a geriatric, even though my actual age is 51 years and 5 days. ‘So what’, my mind valiantly tried to suggest to me even as I felt like ignoring the signal as an insignificant, passing noise. “I was anyway training hard on other days in tougher workouts involving all kinds of muscles and movements. What if I do not get one stray exercise right”, I thought. But, I sensed something awfully wrong somewhere and felt a major incongruity between my tough workouts on the one hand and the not-so-admirable state of fitness that the ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’ exposed, on the other.
My sense of disconcertion led me to look for more information on this exercise and the interpretation of its results. This is what my search revealed to me: The ability to balance on one leg is an important test for brain health. Inability to hold our balance in ‘one-legged-blind-balance-test’, is much likely a symptom of some other underlying disease, slow and progressive brain damage, etc., which raises the risk of critical events in old age, like stroke and dementia. Poor ability to balance, moreover, could increase the risk of fall, injury and death in old age. What I assumed as insignificant, turned out to be a marker of critical importance for my well-being, usefulness and success.
It is a fact that as we age, our strength, reaction times, eyesight and flexibility diminish. But, as in many situations of life, this is not a fatal, helpless state. At every stage and every age, we have choices either to continue the status quo or take action and infuse positive change in our lives. For this specific case of enhancing our balancing ability to be commensurate with our actual age, there are many techniques, practices and tools. However, each one of us needs to design a specific lifestyle and regimen that is most suitable for us given our physical and mental constitution.
For all of us walking the path to personal success, what I believe as more important than the details and specific methods, is a holistic approach to our fitness, in which we accord hypercritical priority to all aspects of fitness such as muscle and bone strength, endurance, flexibility, reaction times, focus and balance.
Some cool facts:
1. Do you know that ‘Yoga’ (a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices, which originated in ancient India) has many balancing asanas or poses which help to improve the neuro-muscular coordination? Each of the balancing asana has its own specific benefits. For example, ‘Eka Padasana’ and ‘Eka Pada Pranamasana’ are effective ‘one-legged balancing’ poses, which improve the sense of balance and equilibrium while strengthening the muscles of the legs and lower back.
2. Many birds stand on one leg when resting on the ground.
3. In the Hindu tradition, many sages were said to perform penance, standing on one leg with eyes closed, for several thousand years. The Hindu god, Siva, is depicted in some places in His one-legged posture as ‘Eka Pada Murti’.
4. ‘Single leg balancing’ is a key ability for sports persons to remain injury-free and efficiently generate power in their legs. ‘Single leg balancing’ test is a crucial test for measuring a golfer’s overall balance and stability.
And lastly, whether we are students or sports persons or entrepreneurs or scientists or for that matter, any one with a dream to make a difference, we had better become good at standing on one leg, as it has a direct correlation to our cognitive ability, brain health, physical stability and eventually, our success in our respective chosen fields.