The word proprioception refers to a person’s ability to know where their body is in space and to exert control over that. For instance, proprioception is the sense that allows a person to walk in the dark without falling over or to do any physical activity with their eyes closed – it may be harder, but it’s still possible! All humans have some level of proprioception, or else we’d be bumping into each other constantly, but it’s possible to improve it.
Yoga is great for improving our proprioception and helping us to be more aware of our bodies, inside and out.
We stimulate the proprioceptive sense whenever we move, but the actions of pulling, pushing and lifting are particularly good for engaging it. Here are some yoga poses that are good for practicing proprioception and balance, and helping us learn more about how our bodies move:
Down Dog: Come to table top (hands and knees), straighten the knees, and lift the hips. Try to reach your bottom up and back so that your chest feels like it’s going to touch your legs. Inverting, or getting our heart above our head, is a great way to flip our perspective and engages our vestibular system (the one that helps us balance). Putting weight on our arms is great for proprioceptive input as well.
Plank: Start in table top again, but this time lift your knees off the floor and walk your feet back until you are as close as you can be to making one straight line from your head to your toes. Stay balanced and still. This pose requires us to engage muscles throughout the entire body and keep our balance. It’s a great full-body strengthener, especially for the core! You can also try practicing this on your forearms, or lifting one leg at a time for an extra challenge.
Tree Pose: Stand evenly on both feet. Be strong in your legs and belly then gently lift one foot up to the inner ankle, calf, or thigh of the opposite leg. The lifted knee is gently reaching to the side. Hands at heart center, take a 5 big belly breaths. Try upping the challenge by closing your eyes! Tree pose builds core strength and balance, bilateral coordination, focus and attention, and builds self- confidence.
Blue Jay Pose: Stand tall and slowly lift one leg behind you. Try different arm variations: behind you like an airplane, in front like a superhero, out to the side like wings, or something completely different! This pose works on balance and focus, as well as arm, leg, and back strengthening.
Partner poses: Try bear pose with a partner. Sitting on your bottoms facing each other with your knees bent and feet on the floor, take your right hand to your right foot and your left hand to your left foot. Slowly, lift your right foot up and maybe straighten your leg; if you feel steady, lift your left leg too! Try to meet your feet in the middle, and if you can, grab hands. Start rocking back and forth or side to side, or stay completely still! This pose is great for balancing using the whole body and moving with a partner.