Safe Falling Class: Single-Leg Balance - a key Exercise

The single-leg balance exercise with the other foot floating in front or behind is very important for improving your leg strength and balance so that you can walk carefully and mindfully in the "Tai Chi Walking" style.

An important safety note: this exercise is for people who can walk normally, can balance fairly easily on two feet, and can support their full body weight on a single leg with the knee slightly bent.  If you have a weak or "trick knee," or need to use a cane or walker, you should not do this exercise without additional safety support that is about waist-high: a kitchen counter, a solid table, chair back, or railing.

Losing your balance slightly is an integral part of this exercise.  When you start to lose your balance, immediately put the raised, "floating" foot down on the floor while bending both knees.  This "sinking and rooting" response, bending both knees with both feet firmly on the floor, should become a new trained response to a loss of balance.  Never fight to keep your balance by waving the floating foot wildly or raising it farther from the floor.  This is easier said than done because our natural instinct is to raise the leg in the opposite direction of the body tilt to counter-balance.      

Remember to keep breathing.  Everyone tends to hold their breath when stressed... be sure to relax and keep breathing at all times.


Floating foot
Stand with one foot a few inches ahead of the rear foot.  Shift all your weight to your rear leg and make sure that the leg is slightly bent.  Slowly lift your "empty" front foot just a half-inch or so off of the floor, and let it "float" there.

Your rear leg will not be happy -- it should be trembling and moving around trying to keep you balanced.

Breathing normally, try to hold your front foot off of the floor for several seconds.

The front leg should be relaxed, not stiff.  The lower leg should just hang from the knee.

When you lose your balance,  put your front foot down immediately, and bend both knees a bit.

You can hold your hands out at your sides as shown to help with your balance.  You should look down to a spot six to eight feet away on the floor: do not just look straight down at your feet.  

If you are worried about falling, you can place one or both hands lightly on a chair back, table, or other solid object, but do not rest your weight on your hands.  Remember, you should be able to feel your rear leg really working, especially around the ankle and knee.  Your hips should not be moving much at all.

It is important to have the floating foot slightly out in front, as if you were going to take a step.  Don't just lift the floating foot up next to your other leg.

At first, several seconds of "floating" the front foot at a time is fine.  When you have to touch down, re-balance on the rear leg and start again.  Repeat until you have a total foot floating time of at least 30 seconds.  Then do the exercise again with the other foot in front.  Do this routine once in the morning, and once in the afternoon: that's only two minutes of exercise a day, but you will feel the results.  Many find they can practice this move during their normal day when they are just standing around.  I do not advocate "multi-tasking" with this exercise ( i.e., "Balance on one foot while brushing your teeth.")  You want to be relaxed, but mindful, focused on your balance.  Eventually, you should be able to easily float either foot for 15 to 30 seconds at a time.

Most people who do not regularly balance on one leg as part of an activity (such as yoga or Tai Chi) find this simple one-leg balance exercise suprisingly difficult.  After all, if you can walk you are always putting all your weight on one leg, then the other.  But we don't notice that we are rarely balanced: normal walking is just a series of controlled falls.  Also, many people move around with their legs almost straight, and find it hard to support the weight of their body on a single leg if it is noticeably bent at the knee.   If you cannot support the weight of your body on one leg with the knee even slightly bent, you should strengthen your major leg muscles (quadriceps) with other exercises before doing the "Front Foot Float."

Click here for next lesson...