The Fine Art of Balance

Proprioception: from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual” and perception, is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.[1]

As Joseph Bennington-Castro explains here, proprioception is “more complicated than you realize.”  (There’s good stuff over there, if you’re interested in the science behind all of this.)

If you’re in the Cuddle & Bounce class with your baby, you’ll notice that one of the activities we do in Kindermuisk is a bit of exercise—moving your baby’s arms and legs up or down, in and out. Of course, being a music class, we do this to a rhythmic poem that provides for language acquisition and a sense of steady beat. However, the activity also reinforces her sense of proprioception (how parts of her body need to move in harmony with other parts of her body, among other specifics) and helps her find balance.

If you go to the Sing & Play class, you’ll notice that sometimes with your toddler you’ll dance with a prop, like a hula hoop. Your child probably just enjoys playing with the hoop, but he’s also working on his sense of propioception. In this case, the weight of the hula hoop as he swings it around, or the balance required to step through it, provides a bit of extra challenge to his equilibrium, and helps his muscles interact together.

In fact, you’ll notice that throughout the Kindermusik years, we work on proprioception in a variety of age-appropriate ways, including the big kids, when they learn the Mexican Hat Dance. But why would it matter? Kids who don’t go to Kindermusik classes somehow learn to walk and run and hop, too.

I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks just how important this sense of balance is, and how targeting it as a specific skill and strength can be key to our overall health. Because of the hours I spend standing and walking around my classroom, I’ve been experiencing tremendous leg and foot pain. In fact, I’m now seeing a physical therapist. This week he made me stand on one foot while we threw a giant exercise ball back and forth, and every day for homework I have to spend some time balancing on one foot and then the other. I am genuinely surprised at how poor my balance is, given the fact that I am generally active. Nevertheless, as I’m mindful of exactly where I’m feeling the muscle fatigue, I can see that I’ve got all these muscles working in tandem to keep me steady–all those proprioceptive skills at play. Apparently, with things being so uneven lately, as the therapist explained to me, none of those muscles and tendons and nerves are working together very well, and this is both a symptom and a cause of my pain.

As is common to the human experience, I believe, when the system was working well I took for granted something I didn’t know I had. Now that I’m working to regain it, I appreciate what I’ve lost. I’ve also reflected, once again, how Kindermusik helps develop the whole child through music and movement. Targeting these specific propioception skills is more than just teaching our kids how to walk or hop on one foot—it’s helping them gain a greater sense of overall health and wellness. As a mom, I know it can sometimes be extremely difficult to keep working Kindermusik into my schedule, when we have so many demands on our time and money (including the increasing pull to do nothing!). Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the gifts that have come to my kids as a result—including those that may be happening while we just think we’re having fun dancing.

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