If you’ve got a cold in the head at the moment, hooray! It’s a chance for an experiment. Stand up, close your eyes, and see how you feel. Colds can cause swelling in the inner ears, and dizziness even when standing firmly on both feet. Some people always feel like this when their eyes are closed because their inner ears are ‘volatile’ (I believe this is not the medical term).
Another way to get a similar result, perhaps more fun than a cold, is to drink too much – this should impair proprioception as well as inner ear function. In the U.S. several of the ‘field sobriety’ tests attempt to assess proprioceptive ability. The most well known of these is walking in a straight line, usually heel to toe; others are standing still with the head back, and touching the tip of the nose with the index finger.
Imagine yourself consciously gathering the information unconsciously organised by the proprioceptive system. The receptors in the soles of the feet, the sacroiliac region (base of the spine and back of the pelvis) and the neck are dominant in forming the body schema (map), and you can feel or picture the interaction between them as you move through the poses.
In a yoga balance we all want to make a beautiful and stable shape; if we are moving we attempt to maintain a graceful flow without bringing the lifted foot down. Often it is the moments when we are moving back to stability that are the most challenging for strength and for proprioception.
But yoga is not ballet. We’re learning to understand and perhaps to love ourselves, not to look even more gorgeous (did you watch Agony & Ecstasy – the English National Ballet?). Try deliberately abandoning the effort to look effortless. Deliberately move as much as possible until you ‘fall out’ of the balance... not necessarily the same thing as falling over.
When we were doing this in class my student Elizabeth said 'when planting a tree you mustn't stake it too tightly, so it can move in the wind. This helps it to make deeper roots – just like we’re doing now.’
Eyes closed, we do Tree (see 9th February 2011 posting for illustration),Trikonasana and reverse, Half Moon, Warrior, Eagle and Anantasana (see 16th February), Tree walking forward and backward on the mat, balances standing on a cushion. Also Tree throwing a ball (eyes open to minimise vase breakages).
Proprioception can ‘break’ with a broken bone, and physiotherapists work with equipment like wobble boards and balls to re-establish it at the same time as working on strength; our variations are inspired by these as well as by yoga. Other yoga proprioception exercises involve movements where the hands touch overhead, or the arms move in time with the spine.
We move and balance using several senses and systems, but owe much of the grace and ease of our movement to proprioception. Still my favourite sense.
To read more articles about yoga and meditation, and to www.yoga-with-your-slippers-on.blogspot.co.uk/see the illustration for this one, go to