Most of you reading this will have been standing up for many years now, but few people actually venture past the basics. Standing up is a very important part of every day life & is an essential skill used in many activities, not just juggling.
In this tutorial I am going to list a number of exercises for you to try. These exercises are designed to increase awareness of your own body, improve your posture & develop the finer muscles required for good balance.
First of all find a nice wide open space. Preferably away from distractions. Take off your shoes & socks if the ground/floor is suitable for you to do so.
Stand in the centre of your space with your heels together. Close your eyes & relax. Keeping your eyes closed is very important, we tend to over rely on our sight for our sense of balance as you will see in later exercises.
While standing, concentrate your awareness on what your body is doing.
- Are you swaying? Can you stop swaying without holding yourself rigid?
- Is your weight evenly distributed over both legs? Are your knees locked?
- Are you pressing your toes into the ground to keep your balance? Is your weight all on your heels? Can you distribute the weight more evenly?
- Is your spine straight? Is there any pain or discomfort in your lower back?
- Are your shoulders relaxed or tense? If you lift them then suddenly let go do they drop straight down or 'stick'?
- Is there any pain or discomfort in your neck? Is your head in balance or are you using your neck muscles to hold it in place?
- Is your mouth open or are you holding it clenched shut?
- Is your breathing regular? Are you heaving your chest or using your stomach muscles to breathe at all? You should only need to use your diaphragm.
- When you breathe out are you holding back or physically pushing the air out of your lungs at all?
- Are your eyes still closed? Have you managed to keep them closed all along? Are you holding them tightly shut? Are your eyelids flickering?
This is an entirely internal process, concentrate on what you feel your body is doing, not what you think your body is doing. Find the areas that are uncomfortable or tense & relax them one at a time. The goal of the exercise is to stand up by applying as little effort as possible into doing so.
Now pick up some juggling balls, get the highest number of balls that you can comfortably juggle with. Stand in the centre of your space and start to juggle, don't concentrate too hard on the pattern. Focus internally on what your body is doing just like before, work through the list from exercise 1 ironing out each area of discomfort.
Are your throws making you wiggle? If so work on absorbing the shock of each catch more efficiently and throwing with a smoother action. This for me is my number one indicator of an uneven pattern.
Try other numbers, props and patterns to see how they affect your stance. Standing up is not a static activity but a dynamic balance, this should be much more noticeable while using your hands to manipulate something but even just your breathing alters the shape of your body and has an effect.
Put the props down again & stand in the centre of your space. Close your eyes as before. Now lift one foot off the floor. How long can you last before you put the foot down or open your eyes?
What you will probably find is that your leg will continuously shake as you try to keep your balance, you will automatically use your arms as counterbalances. You will under & overcompensate & put increasingly more brute force into your leg muscles until you have to put your foot back down.
The trick is to apply less effort. Relax your arms, just let them hang by your sides. Only lift your foot as high as necessary & keep the foot loose, don't point it straight. Other than that keep practising, learn to suppress the instinct to over react when you start to lean. Remaining relaxed is very important, the more effort you put in the quicker your leg will become tired. The more tired your leg becomes the less control you have over the muscles. Because of this, only practise this exercise a little at a time.
As you practise you will depend on your sight less & less, your lower leg muscles will become more conditioned & your control over them will increase too.
As your skill increases try focusing on your posture rather than the balance & go through the list in exercise 1 just like you did before, but also think about these important one-leg specific points:
- Is your pelvis straight? Or are you hanging from the leg that you are standing on?
- Are you using your dangling leg as a counter balance and leaning forward more than you need to?
Remember to practise this exercise on both legs.
Now try juggling while standing on one leg. This immediately limits your reach so you have no choice but to juggle well.
Try continuous backcrosses if you are able, your right hand swings behind you and pushes you off to the left, then your left hand pushes you to the right. You can either hold a rigid stance or you can work on balancing your left hand throws so that they cancel each other out. Yes holding a rigid stance is easier, but juggling a pattern with even throws looks much better.
Again try different numbers, props and patterns. This exercise is most worthwhile with juggling clubs. Clubs are heavier and have to be thrown with more force so the effect on your balance is much more noticeable.
This exercise helps me identify minute problems with my juggling that I wouldnít normally notice while standing on both feet. Iíve found it especially useful when practising components for combination tricks which I have just recently taken an interest in. If juggling with one hand makes me jerk from side to side Iím going to have a really hard time balancing a club on my chin at the same time.
So there you go. Have fun. Donít fall over.