Sense of Balance
“All those with balance problems, exhibit symptoms of anxiety, not all with anxiety have balance problems” Bill Hubert, Cues for Learning and teaching in Flow.
Balance if un-compromised is automatic but what if we have to really work at it…….
The systems involved and how the brain receives and processes information that effects ‘our balance, has been referred to as ‘the forgotten sense’.
The five senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste are all recognised as being vital to our physical well- being, whilst our sense of balance is somehow overlooked….
Balance is perhaps something that we all take for granted, as it is so natural and automatic. It’s not until we have a fall, become ill, have a physical challenge, that we then realise how difficult it is to keep steady, focus, and know where we are in space.
When our sense of balance is ineffective, we quickly attend to what our physical body is doing, to prevent losing our balance and potentially falling over and injuring ourselves.
There are two systems involved with our sense of balance – the proprioceptive sense and vestibular sense. These give our brains the information it requires to achieve our sense of balance.
The proprioceptive sense is the sensation of joint movement by using the stretch receptors in the muscles/tendons/ligaments to keep track of the joint position in the body. From this we sense the position, location and orientation of our body in space and the movement of our different body parts.
The vestibular system is one of the first sensory systems to fully develop. It controls the sense of movement and balance through space and the position of our head. The sense organs for the vestibular system are located within the inner ear. As we receive information it goes to the vestibular nuclei in the brain-stem. The vestibular sense automatically coordinates the movement of one’s eyes so we look in the right direction and monitor and makes adjustments to our different muscles, telling them when to contract and release tension. This all happens automatically so we remain balanced.
When we stand, walk or do other activities we are not thinking about all the decisions our brain is making. When we are dizzy, sick, feeling clumsy, or have a physical challenge – then we notice how difficult it is to keep our balance.
The Brain Buddy Balance Board can train the sensory system by working with the proprioceptive and vestibular systems.
Simply standing, or in the case of younger children, sitting cross-legged on the balance board can activate our brain and open up our senses for more effective learning.
Standing on the balance board, information is sent via our toes, through our joints via the central nervous system. When we move any part of our body, there is a balance shift and we instantly become aware because the balance board moves side to side/front to back, under our feet. We immediately feel our body making movement changes so that we do not fall off. This creates awareness of how safe or unsafe we feel standing on an uneven surface, and how this can present challenges to us.
Standing on the balance board requires both brain hemispheres to be used as it is impossible to stand firmly whilst using only one hemisphere, therefore all cognitive ability is stimulated.
Information received whilst standing on a balance board is learned more quickly, retained longer and with better understanding. When both sides of the brain are working together, the ability to process, file and store information is more efficient.
For those who are starting out on our balance board we reduce the tip by supporting the board underneath with sandbags, and the look of anxiety soon disappears.
Performing rhythmic movement exercises whilst standing on the balance board may also provide benefits within many other areas of physical, academic and social learning.