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Have you ever wondered how many people over sixty years old are comfortable balancing on one foot (for more than five seconds), or how many enjoy the feeling of stretching backwards over an exercise ball, or even how many can get into a squat position and stay there?
 
These three poses are valuable for anyone, regardless of age.  By keeping our balance we protect ourselves from falls, we stand straighter and are stronger.  By stretching backwards over a large ball, we lengthen our spine and open our chest, which helps us breath deeply, energizing and revitalizing us.
 
My favorite pose of these three is the squat.  Randolph Stone, DC, DO, ND, the founder of Polarity Therapy and Yoga believed in the benefits of the squat so much he called the squat “Youth Posture.”  He taught at least seven variations, and believed that along with healthy eating, receiving polarity therapy and bodywork, and meditation that the squat is essential for our health.
 
Why?  Practicing the squat regularly stimulates the downward current of elimination and thus improves digestion.  When you squat you are stretching the achilles tendon;  By stretching and lengthening the lower back you are easing pressure on the sacrum at the bottom of the spine.  You are enhancing the flow of energy (a central focus in Polarity Therapy) because the proximity of the calves, thighs, solar plexus and chest is similar to the fetal position.  Additionally, the squat posture assists in concentration, focus, a feeling of being grounded, and is soothing and rejuvenating.
 
The modern dance company I founded in the 1980s in Philadelphia, Agape Dancers, used the squat pose frequently in our choreography.  Sometimes we were still, sometimes swiveling side to side, as we hummed or “toned.”
 
There are, however, different degrees of comfort in the pose.  For people who have difficulty squatting, making a rocking motion while in the pose can help acclimate hips and legs.  For some, resting the heels on yoga blocks or tennis balls make the pose possible, and even comfortable.  Those with painful knees and varicose veins will find it difficult and possibly contraindicated, although placing a small folded towel under the knees decreases the strain.  Another way to play with the pose is to rest arms on large exercise ball, or to face a partner, hold each other’s wrists, stretching and counterbalancing each other. 

Today exericse or Swiss balls are everywhere. When I worked at Wellness Professionals in Murrieta, our whole open space was filled with balls, almost like walking through a field of mushrooms. Pacific Distributing sold them (and still does) right off the floor sometimes. My favorite stretch is arching back over them to open the chest and stretch the upper back. I like to start classes with a quiet time to allow students to lie on their backs, resting on two tennis balls, to discover where they are holding tension. Another thing we do in yoga class is lie on the floor and “throw” the large balls to each other using our feet. This is an excellent way to strengthen the abdomen, hips and especially inner thighs, and it is a lot of fun. We use them to balance on, and use them for crunches. They are great for resting our legs on at the end of class, and for releasing our lower backs. I also use smaller balls for rolling on to massage the muscles. Today Yamuna Body Rolling is becoming popular as it is a fun and fascinating way to massage/stretch the whole body. Some people put the large balls in a frame for an ergonomically correct chair that forces you to stay straight to keep your balance, at the same time strengthening your core muscles.
It is very comfortable to rest your tired legs on a large ball when seated in a chair. I used to sit on a large ball when my daughter was an infant to bounce her. Whenever I get a Living Arts catalogue in the mail, there is always something new that I have not tried yet. I need to get on the ball with that!