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A Tool for Developing Abilities
Various Balance Board exercises and routines are used to develop rhythm, sequencing, motor co-ordination, visual and auditory processing. The Balance Board also helps to release the effects of emotional stress and trauma. Significant shifts in behavior have also been noted, along with enhanced self-esteem.
Use of the Balance
Board has shown benefits in the following areas:
Balance Board activities are also useful for all learners, included gifted thinkers, reducing stress while improving focus and concentration for more difficult or complex tasks.
To understanding how the balance board works, we first need to understand why our sense of balance is important. Most of us don’t even think about our sense of balance because it is so natural and automatic. It isn’t until we are injured, sick or have indulged in a few too many drinks that we notice how difficult it is to keep ourselves steady, keep our surroundings still, see clearly, and know just where our body parts are in space, at any given moment. When our sense of balance is inefficient, all our attention needs to go to what our physical body is doing so we don't fall over and hurt ourselves. If we can not move appropriately, quickly enough or even slow enough, we loose our balance (this sense of stability) and we fall down. We all know about the earth’s gravity and it’s effects but many of us have not connected it to the stability and efficiency of how we move through space and organise the information we receive from our senses.
The five senses that we are all aware of are only apart of the body’s way of receiving information from the outside world. We need to look a little deeper to become aware of the systems that actually take this information to our brain so it can be organised in some fashion to make sense of all this incoming information.
Let’s take an orange for example: we see this round orange coloured object; we smell it’s sweet smell; we feel it’s texture and how it feels when we apply pressure to it; we can feel and hear the sound it makes as we cut through the peal and we can taste its flavour. Somehow we have to put all this sensory information together to make sense and remember that all this together makes an orange.
If we can not organise this experience in our brain, we can not remember what an orange is, what it tastes like, what colour it is, what it may feel like and what it may even look like. This sensory integration is directly related to the same mechanisms that tell our body/brain where we are in space and how we are relating to gravity. As we move through our day, we are constantly organising our movements on a moment by moment basis. The information from our skin receptors through touch, temperature, pressure and movement by our feet, hands, and the rest of our body, as well as, information from our eyes and ears is picked up and sent to our brain through two very important systems. These two systems are the Proprioception sense and the Vestibular sense.
These two systems feed our brain with the information it needs that gives us our sense of balance. Let’s look a little closer at just what these two systems are.
Proprioception or Proprioceptive Sense is the unconscious awareness of sensations coming from our joints, by way of proprioceptor receptors in the fluid, muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding our joints. These sensations travel to the brain similar to other peripheral sensors, such as touch, hearing and sight. From this information we sense the position, location, and orientation of our body to our surroundings, and the movement of the different parts of our body.
This is where the Vestibular system becomes involved. We start to organize this system when we are 5 months old in utero. The Vestibular system is one of the first sensory systems to fully develop because it needs to control the sense of movement and balance. There are several small organs involved in vestibular sensation and from them we gather information about the head’s position relative to the ground. These are the most sensitive of all the sense organs and they lie in the Mastoid Bone (the lump behind the ear lobe) and are part of the inner ear. As we take in information through these specific organs in the inner ear, it goes to the control station (the vestibular nuclei) in the brainstem. Then the parts of the brain, involved with stored movement patterns, monitors and makes corrective adjustments to our different muscles by telling them when to tighten and when to relax and, very importantly, it tells our eye muscles how to move so we look in the right direction. All this happens instantly and automatically so we don’t loose our balance or stability.
When we stand on a balance board we can feel sensations (information) travelling up our body from our toes, through our joints to our brain by way of the Central Nervous System. We can notice our stability and symmetry between the two sides of our body. When our balance shifts, from moving any part of our body or start letting our minds drift, we immediately become aware of the change because the balance board moves under our feet. We can then feel our body automatically making corrections so that we do not fall off the board. We quickly become aware of how safe or unsafe we feel when we are faced with the challenge of standing still on an uneven surface.
Normally when standing, walking or doing other activities on solid ground we are not aware of all the decisions our brain is continuously making on a moment by moment basis. It is only when we are feeling clumsy, dizzy, sick, or have a physical problem that we notice how difficult it is to keep our balance. We are also very adept at developing compensation skills on physical, mental and emotional levels. Sometimes we adapt by holding our head to the side, tightening certain muscles around our joints, not breathing, limiting the directions our eyes look, or perhaps using physical apparatus to aid us in our day to day lives. This often comes at a heavy price.
On a physical level, we may be living with such symptoms as nausea, dizziness, adrenal overload, low muscle tone, tension, pain, or many others. On an emotional level, we may suffer from low self-esteem or feelings such as a sense of loss, sadness, depression, frustration, desperation, anger, and even hostility. On a mental level, we might feel confusion, disorganization, an inability to hold a thought, memory loss, an inability to have a clear mind, and/or disassociation.
Doing Balance Board activities trains the whole sensory system by working with the proprioception and the vestibular systems. These key threads in the neurological web of our brain are the mechanism whereby simply standing on the Balance Board, or using the balance board in combination with other sensory or cognitive training tools, activates our entire brain and opens up our sensory channels for more efficient learning. When we stand solidly on the board, we are using and training both hemispheres of the brain because it is impossible to stand firmly on the board using only one hemisphere at a time. The result is that information taken in, while standing on a balance board, is learned faster, retained longer, with better comprehension. When both sides of the brain are working together, the ability to process, file and store information is more efficient. A session on the balance board leaves the brain in a more organized state.
Jean Ayres, Occupational Therapist, with extensive training in
neurology. She pioneered Sensory integration Therapy. Ayres determined
that certain vestibular disorders are associated with learning disabilities
which helps us understand why working on Balance Board improves learning