Monday, August 1, 2011

Balance V: the eyes and the ears


Spinning around several times is likely to make you feel somewhat disoriented and dizzy. If however, you lift up your hand a few inches away from your eyes, keep it there and gaze at it while spinning around, dizziness levels are reduced. This simple exercise demonstrates that focusing one's gaze on a stationary object when performing destabilizing movements can assist one in maintaining  balance. A technique commonly used by gymnasts on a balancing beam.

When skateboarding, one can lose balance because their eyes wander about and expose the mind to disturbing stimuli. Attuning one's gaze on a stationary object - preferably near eye level - during the execution of a trick can remedy this and help one keep balanced.


It's known that the semicircular canals in the ears are involved in one's sense of balance - the vestibular sense. This is reflected in the ancient  Hebrew word for ears, oznayim, which is related to the Hebrew word for balance, Eizun, and the word for scales, moznayim. Sometimes, however, especially during manoeuvres where one's body must spin around, the ears may sound the alarm that one has lost balance. This can confound a skater and impede his ability to land a trick. Therefore, at times, one must learn to ignore the alarm sent from the ears and to carry out the trick regardless. Gymnasts are trained to ignore the signals from their ears in this manner.

It's noteworthy that in both cases, the skater experiences imbalance due to unwanted stimuli entering his mind during a trick, yet the way the stimuli is dealt with in each case is considerably different. Concerning the input from the eyes, one's advised to focus the eyes onto one spot; regarding the ears, one's advised to temporarily ignore them. Why the difference?

The input received from the eyes is largely under one's control: one can will one's eyes to physically focus onto a single object and eliminate disturbing stimuli thereby. In contrast, the ears are more automatic, one cannot control whether sounds enter the ears or not by willing them to turn away or to close. This applies to both the ear's capacity for hearing and orientation. Hence, the main way to deal with distractions from the ears is by ignoring them.

Focus your eyes; ignore your ears.           


  1. Perhaps the 'alarm' sounded by the ear's balance mechanism is not a distraction at all, but the body's natural way of telling a person that he is in danger. Instead of ignoring it, it would be far more sensible to take heed of it — unless one enjoys nursing broken bones.

  2. We often avoid many worthwhile activities due to the 'alarm' sounded by irrational fear. If we'd heed fear all the time we'd be greatly impoverished. Rather, we must use our sensibilty to distinguish between justified fear and unjustified/irrational fear and deal with each accordingly.

    Similarly, sometimes the vestibular sense is to be followed and at other times ignored depending on the justifiability of its 'alarm'.