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Balance Training: The Secret Powers of the Tightrope
A human’s balance system resides in the inner ear. Although small in size, the organ has profound influence on our physical, emotional, and mental state. In addition to the functions of balance, the inner ear is also the center hub for all sensory input. Moreover, the inner ear is the pre-processing center of sensory information for the brain.
Because the nervous system plays an important role in all areas of our physical and emotional lives, positive changes can be gained from certain balance training, supervised by the inner ear.
Balance training is task-specific. For example, knowing how to ride a bicycle does not make one ready to ice skate, or roller blade, or walk the tightrope.
Tightrope walking is a very intense and difficult balance activity to master, mainly because it physically places the left side of our body on the left side of the rope, and the right side of our body on the right of the rope. The diameter/width of the rope is that tiny area over which balance must be established and maintained.
Balance training, which simulates tightrope balancing, does what cannot be accomplished otherwise. It necessitates that the left and right brain hemispheres communicate with each other-without overpowering one another.
The left-brain is in control of the right side of the body, while the right brain controls the left side of the body. One reason we have two halves of one brain is because of sheer incompatibility of the traits. Just because the two halves live in one head, does not mean they want the same thing, or that they see eye-to-eye, or that they coordinate their desires through some non-existent third party. Why do you think people get conflicted and stuck trying to resolve their dilemmas? The two brain halves often compete for dominance. That’s why balance on the tightrope is so hard to maintain. But what can gaining this balance do for us?
For example, we all know people who are free spirits, and very artistic, and freely do things. They probably are good at various arts, playing musical instruments, singing, dancing, or painting, etc. This set of skills shows pronounced dominance of the right brain. People who have a pronounced left-brain dominance, like to have control, structure, discipline, rules, and logic in their life. They probably read many books, prefer things be spelled out to them, figuratively and literally. They get upset when something is out of order, when someone doesn’t do what they should do. They would prefer a world made up of even and symmetrical squares that can easily be manipulated. When they spend a lot of time dealing with one shape, giving them a different shape would probably confuse and befuddle them. Likely they are not very emotionally savvy, because emotions reside in the right brain, while logic, language, and thoughts reside in the left brain.
Balancing that simulates walking on a tightrope, takes that hemisphere incompatibility and the desire for dominance, and gets it under control. Using our physical body, we place specific demands on the brain, and the brain learns. Slowly, but it learns. When you train with the system that simulates a tightrope, you teach the two halves of the brain to collaborate. You train them not to compete for dominance.
You make the more powerful and faster side a little less dominant. At the same time, you make the less powerful and slower side have a bit more oomph. This is accomplished through specific demands that you place on your body, such as trying to maintain balance while you place one foot in front of another, on a very narrow and rounded walking surface.
The dominance of one brain hemisphere over another leads to a life that is very rich in one area, but is poor in the other. A person with a dominant left brain, will probably be an intellectual, who reads a lot, who follows rules and schedules. But chances are this person is probably bankrupt when it comes to matters of emotions, compassion, artistic skills, the ability to relax, or dream in color.
On the other hand, a person with the dominant right brain, will probably be very artistic, emotionally savvy, and in touch with his or her emotions, and usually can help others with emotional problems. This person can probably dance, or sing, or play a musical instrument, but don’t expect equally high performance marks when it comes to keeping commitments and schedules, as well as maintaining logic and coherence in what they do or say.
I don’t have scientific proof for this, and I don’t know if current technology can offer such proof, consider this. Use your knowledge, and your own common sense. We all know that ADD and ADHD are due to the brain not working fast enough. For this, people take medication, which is an artificial stimulant. My question then is: If a lot of very talented, even gifted individuals have ADD, how is it that their brain is not working fast enough?
The better question is: which hemisphere is not working fast enough? When a person, young or not, cannot read for more than five minutes; cannot keep their focus on the teacher; want to leave the class before the bell rings, or are frequently late to classes-it’s the left hemisphere that is slacking, not the right. Do you see my point? Yet, kids and adults take pills that stimulate both the left and the right hemispheres, just so the left hemisphere would pick up the speed.
No pills exist that can make only one specific brain hemisphere work faster. If there were, we would be treating behavioral and character flaws with medication. Since we are not there yet, we use medication that stimulates both hemispheres.
When one side dominates:
- How do you expect a person to keep the schedule, pay constant attention to the teacher, or do homework for several hours? They are filled with artistic expressions, like music, dancing, or singing, and with emotions, like joy, or sadness, or envy, or longing.
- How can they follow rules and be obedient when they hear music in their heads so loud they cannot hear anything else?
This is where the tightrope-style training is going to actually address the problem: slow down the overactive part of the brain, and stimulate the underactive part. Here is how. Falling down is one of a human’s biggest fears. That’s why balancing on the tightrope-style device creates a boost of energy, and gives the brain some additional speed in processing things to help it deal with the threat of losing balance and falling down. Since we physically force our body to remain balanced on top of that tightrope, it is necessary that the two brain hemispheres communicate without overpowering one another. The extra energy and brain speed helps us deal with the threat of losing balance and falling, makes the two hemispheres work faster, but not just faster, equally faster.
Such balance training is needed for those who suffer from PTSD and related high-emotion symptoms. Those who have faced the ugliest of what humans are capable of doing, are overwhelmed with emotions and memories that wouldn’t go away, haunting them day and night.
They take antidepressant drugs and medication for anxiety, and for psychosis. The medication’s purpose is to stop the scary episodes, but what else is it also stopping? Everything else that is normal and good, that’s what. In order to reduce or remove the episodes, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the hallucinations, the meds turn a person into a living soulless zombie who cannot appreciate the world and family around him. On medication, he cannot feel, have emotions, or interact with others as he used to. These people feel less, care less, enjoy less; in short, they are less alive. They become indifferent to things, to people, to family, and to life itself.
Did their medication help? Yes, it stopped or reduced the scary episodes, but it also drastically changed other things in their lives.
Their doctors might simply say: That’s a side effect of the drugs. Why do doctors keep treating these symptoms with medication that fixes one problem, but creates two new ones? Because currently, it is the accepted way to treat such problems. After several years in medical school, doctors learn to follow what is accepted, trusted, and reliable.
It’s all well and good, but do you know that of all medical specialties, I could not find any degree for balance functions in the inner ear? Forget about the degree, there aren’t even any courses about balance functions. Do you know why? Because balance is too broad, too encompassing, too pervasive, and because it is too deep.
Balance is studied as part of the nervous system, but it should be the other way around. Balance is the first sensory organ that develops in the fetus. In many life forms, balance is the only brain for that life form. The nervous system grows out of the system of balance, not the other way around.
We should study balance, and learn about the nervous system that grows out of it. Yet, we don’t. Also, if something is wrong with balance, you don’t see surgeons fixing things, because the balance system is too delicate and too complex to mess with safely.
Brain surgeries were done even in the prehistoric times. And the patients lived afterwards. But to this day, surgeons shy away from performing surgical procedures that involve the semi-circular canals of the organ of balance. Even blood vessels don’t come close to it because pulsating blood flow will create too much disturbance for the delicate organ. Perhaps the complexity of this design is the very reason why doctors even sidestep any discussions (and surgeries) about the role of the balance organ in our lives.
Maybe because I did not spend all the time it takes to become a psychiatrist, I am not conditioned to sidestep this issue. I’m a former engineer, without conditioning to bypass an issue because it’s too complex or too delicate. I examine it for what it does, and find ways to make use of it. While I admit that I don’t have a clue about the intricacies of the subject matter, I also admit that what I know is plenty enough for me to predict that tightrope-style balance training will become the panacea for many maladies that afflict mankind.
Our country has been at war for many years. The stream of wounded and emotionally afflicted soldiers is growing with each passing year. Yet fixing their issues is relegated to heavy medication and/or talk therapy. The therapists fail more than they succeed. Soldiers hate it when they are made to re-live the brutal events time and again in the hopes that their conscience grows callous. Yet from Alcoholics Anonymous to behavior therapy clinics, all know that treating PTSD symptoms can only be done by teaching the patients new patterns of behavior.
They also know that even brains that have holes in them are capable of learning new patterns of behavior, yet show me one practitioner who does this successfully. They can’t seem to understand that reliving that negative situation, by necessity, recalls all the emotions they experienced when that event occurred. Emotions dictate how long and how vividly we remember what we remember. By having a patient recall the event, the repetition makes the event even more memorable. How can you teach new patterns of behavior when you use old emotions that made it “memorable” in the first place?
Do you see? One does not need to be a medical doctor to notice something is wrong with this approach.
Put the patient on a narrow balance beam, with one foot in front of another. Create the physical conditions that necessitate the brain hemispheres to collaborate with each other on the same level. Here, you just introduced a new pattern of behavior. Why is this so hard to understand? Un-complicate things.
Some people preach that when a “possibility” isn’t being tried, follow the money. Where will the money flow? Who will benefit from a cured you? Will the doctor benefit? Will his family? Doctors are not paid based on end result. They are paid for the services rendered. The more services they render, the more money they make. The successful resolution from those services does not give them a bonus. It gives them nothing.
That’s why doctors would tell you not to listen to this crap called balance training. How can they charge for balance training when patients can do it at home, without any supervision, without any monitoring, without their help? They can’t charge for that. So doctors or hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies will not recommend or endorse it. But that’s okay, I don’t answer to them, but to a higher authority. Plus I still believe most doctors will do the right thing for their patients, once they know for sure what that right thing is.
Analyze and scrutinize what I’m asking. Basically, it is to put one foot in front of another, and stand balancing on the narrow oval surface of the balance beam. As a child, you walked on the edge of the curb without anyone telling you to do so. It came to you naturally. Now, when no one can see you, do you climb on the knee-high wall of flowerbeds and try to balance walk on it? Or, do you still walk on the edge of the curb? If you attach a list of benefits to this activity, can anything possibly change for the worse?
This is a true story. An older lady was curious about my balance beam, and wanted to try. I held her hand. Then she let go of my hand and proceeded to balance walk on her own. She did it a few times, thanked me, and left. The next day, she found me, and with a serious face asked, “Do you know what your balance beam did to me?”
“For the first time in many decades, I remembered my childhood, what I did, where I was, and who was with me. I thought I had forgotten those years for good. You brought back memories from my childhood, of being young and happy. Thank you so much.”
What happened to that woman is perfectly clear. At some time in her childhood, she stopped balance walking on the railroad tracks, and kept herself away from any situations that were similar to the familiar tightrope-walking style balancing. Her life simply excluded those elements.
Now when she stepped on my balance beam, she recreated in her brain that sensation of togetherness, collaboration, and non-competitive performance of her left and right hemispheres that only tightrope-style balancing provides.
From her childhood until the day we met, she never had the occasion to experience those specific feelings. When she balance-walked on my balance beam, she accessed the cue to her memories that surrounded those activities. As stated earlier, balance is very specific and task oriented. I’m sure that during the many decades of her life, she had come across difference balancing situations, but only now, with the tightrope-style balancing, did it provide the memory the missing cue. Balance walking on my balance beam reminded her of balance walking on the railroad tracks near her childhood house-and the time when she was happy.
Should we be concerned with recalling happy memories from our childhood years? Could something bad happen if we do? No, this activity recalls only happy memories. Why? Because faces of kids and adults light up in a smile every time they put one foot in front of another, and balance, tightrope-style. Any activity that brings out smiles will only be of recalled memories that also contain smiles.
Yes, analyze and scrutinize what I’m asking you to do: balance walking, just like you did when you were a kid. Kids all over the world do this on their own, without anyone prompting them-because it comes naturally. Maybe Mother Nature has built balance walking into us, and we simply do what nature wants us to do. How do YOU feel about curb walking? What bad could possibly come of this if we start using it as therapy?
It would be great if a doctor wrote you a “prescription” for curb walking or other tightrope-style balance walking, just because he knew it would help you-and had NO side affects. He’d benefit (only) by having a happier and healthier patient. Imagine going back to that happiest of times when we had the freedom and lack of stress of being a kid. When we were not encumbered with rules and insurance restrictions, when we were not told, “Don’t do that, you look silly,” “That isn’t covered by your insurance,” “Here, try this med to help with your Attention Deficit issues, or with your PTSD issues.”
Remember the golden rule of habit change? “To change a habit, you must keep the old cue and deliver the old reward but insert a new routine.” Well, how hard would it be to insert a new routine, placing one foot in front of another on a balance beam? First do it with the balance beam, then simply touch the toes of your left foot to the heel of your right foot, and you resurrect that sensation of being calm, together, and in control. You can do this even as you’re driving, should the need call for it.
Encourage patients to try to maintain balance on a tightrope-stile beam for an hour, for 90 hours in 90 days. Here is your proven formula for success from the A.A. guidebook.
Okay, arms out to your side, one foot in front of the other, walk that balance beam. Everyone falls off at first, but when you find that key to your balance, it will make you beam so broadly the whole world could see it.
When is the last time you joyfully said, “It feels like I’m a kid again?”
When is the last time you joyfully said, “I feel good. I feel happy?”
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