Fitness Magazine

Staying Upright: About Our Postural Reflexes, Balance, and Yoga

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter

Staying Upright: About Our Postural Reflexes, Balance, and Yoga

Playing at Giants by Francisco Goya

In the course of researching agility and balance, I came upon the mention of “postural reflexes.” We humans have a lot of reflexes, so I was not exactly sure what these reflexes were. But I began to do some digging. 
It turns out that you have a couple of reflexes that automatically correct the orientation of your body when it shifts from being up upright. They kick into action into action when unexpected events throw you off balance so your body can prevent you from falling by quickly attempting to self-correct. Imagine turning and suddenly almost (or actually) bumping into someone, walking down a slick ramp and suddenly slipping a bit, or reaching that darn crack in the side walk that trips you up. They also kick into action during everyday balancing activities, such as when you are standing on a chair in the kitchen trying to reach into the upper shelf or when you are walking on the raised edge of a curb just for the fun of it. 
Our postural reflexes start to develop when we are infants starting to sit up, advance when we are toddlers learning to walk, and continue to be refined through adolescence into young adulthood. In the early days staying upright requires a lot of conscious effort, but with time and practice, our coordinated, muscular responses to being off balance or anticipating loss of balance become more subconscious and reflexive.
These postural responses that keep you upright (or try to!) are a result of information sent to your brain from your inner ears and eyes, the pressure sensors on your feet, and your proprioceptors (the nerves that tell you where you are space). As we age, our postural reflexes may slow down due to age-related changes in one or more of the components of this complex system.
However, in studies of older stroke victims who initially show a decrease in postural reflexes after their stroke there is evidence that practicing agility exercises helps them regain some of their lost function. So although there have been no specific studies of on yoga and postural reflexes, it’s likely that practicing a variety of yoga poses to improve strength, flexibility, balance, and agility would help you maintain and/or improve your postural reflexes. For maintaining postural reflexes, I would particularly recommend strength building practices, as well as balance and agility practices, both static and dynamic variations. 
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