The Bull in the China Shop and the Wet Noodle: How Yoga Strengthens Proprioception

The Bull in the China Shop and the Wet Noodle: How Yoga Strengthens Proprioception

astronaut in space

Proprioception is the ability to know where one’s body is in space. Not necessarily outer space, but the space in which we live and move through every day. It is closely tied with the body’s balance, taking information from big and small movements and sensations in the muscles and joints, and processing this information in the central nervous system. For many, this complex system functions with little or no conscious attention. Have you fallen out of your chair while reading this? Probably not. Thanks to your body’s proprioceptive system subconsciously making tiny adjustments to keep your body upright.

Let’s say your proprioceptive system was not working so well for you and you did fall out of your chair. Maybe someone helps you back up, but soon enough you fall off again. You are helped up, but again, you fall, and the pattern repeats itself again and again. Sounds frustrating, right? For you and those around you trying to help.

limp noodle

I have seen this time and time again in classrooms and therapy rooms. I term these kids: Limp Noodles. Their attention tends to drift off similarly to the way their body tends to drift. Teachers and parents are frustrated by the continuous need to remind them to: “get in your chair, sit up, pay attention.”

Now let’s take a look at another malfunction of the proprioceptive system: The Bull in the China Shop. This little guy (or gal) comes at you like a freight train for a bone-crushing hug. Chairs, tables, and anything decorative doesn’t stand a chance around this one as he bounds toward an object of interest. Every last crayon in the crayon box is broken as is the lead in every pencil. Pets, neighbors, and peers run in fright as this one approaches, anticipating their personal space is about to be invaded with the force of a… well, a bull in china shop. With best intentions we tell these kids to: “slow down, be careful, easy, gentle,” and with best intentions they may at first  obey, but soon enough – cRaSh! BoOm! BaNg!

bull in a china shop

By now you probably have at least one kiddo in mind that you can picture yourself repeatedly (and likely with increasing irritation) giving these reminders. And while these reminders are great, they do not address the underlying proprioception issues. What is one to do?    YOGA!!

Yoga is phenomenal way to improve proprioception in children and adults. Static yoga poses such as boat, should stand and tree provide solid input into joints and muscles in key areas of the body rich in proprioceptors (namely the pelvis, neck, and soles of the feet.) These poses also develop strength. Strong muscles in turn allow your body to maintain positions (i.e., sitting up tall in a chair) for longer periods of time, making it easier to focus on the task at hand as opposed to focusing on keeping yourself in your chair.

As a child becomes more familiar with static poses, yoga classes teach transitions between poses, sequences of poses, and partner poses to further develop proprioception. These dynamic postures require focused attention for intentional movements of multiple body parts. In this way, children develop awareness and coordination of their body parts moving together through space. Partner yoga poses encourage awareness of not only one’s own body but also the awareness of the partner and his/her body movements. Both people need to be aware and mindful of how their movements impact each other in order to achieve balance in a partner pose.

As the proprioceptive system responds to the input and training of yoga, we see children sitting with better attention. We see children moving with more grace. We notice we have to give fewer and fewer reminders to “sit up” and “be careful”. Ultimately, we see children more aware of themselves and of others body language, and more mindful of their impact on others.

If your child exhibits signs of a weak proprioceptive system, s/he may benefit from a yoga program designed to improve his/her body awareness. Contact YogaSprouts for a free initial consultation to learn more.