yoga instructorBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Where did this ball come from? Is the stability ball a legitimate Yoga prop or just a marketing gimmick for equipment sales? Who could benefit from the use of the ball in a class? When can the stability ball fit into a Hatha class?  Where did this ball come from? Stability balls have been around since 1963, originating in Italy. The first time I saw a stability ball, we called it a, “Swiss Ball.” Yet, the Swiss Balls at that time, were all made in Italy. American Physical Therapists saw the ball, in use, within physical therapy Swiss units.

As a result, the ball was nick named the Swiss Ball by Americans for decades. The first balls we used at Aura Wellness Center were made by Gymnic Balls in Italy. We tried many brands, but my personal ball is an old Gymnic Ball, which has taken more abuse than it deserved.  At this time, these balls are commonly referred to as stability balls, Yoga balls, exercise balls, or balance balls. They are used in physical therapy units, Pilates classes, Yoga studios, and in many health clubs. Many elite and professional athletes use them for coordination.

Is the stability ball a legitimate prop or just an exercise marketing gimmick for equipment sales? Any piece of equipment can be termed an exercise marketing gimmick, but the stability ball has hundreds of uses.  You can use the ball before and during asana practice, while performing a standing warm up, Sun Salutation, seated series, prone series, table series, supine on the ball series, and supine on the floor series (with legs or feet on top of the ball).

Who could benefit from the use of the ball in a class? Beginners can use the stability ball for many poses. For example: In wheel posture (Chakrasana), holding this position is not for everyone, but the stability balls, and a wall, make it possible for everyone. With a stability ball, beginner Hatha Yoga students can gain the benefits of Chakrasana for minutes.

Just this one pose is fantastic for improving elasticity of the spine and your daily posture. It is also said that this posture gently stretches the heart, pancreas, liver, and kidneys.  Yet, this posture is classified as an inversion, and may not be advisable for Yoga students with high blood pressure. Students with back problems should get their doctor’s permission and study under the guidance of a competent Yoga teacher.

When can the stability ball fit into a Hatha Yoga class? To be completely safe, you should consult a physician before entering a class where asanas or Yogic exercises are practiced. The same warning applies to the use of a stability ball in any class.  With that said, stability ball videos are great for Yoga teachers, but can be very risky for the unsupervised public.

Side Notes for Yoga Teachers

Be honest with yourself about your ability to balance.  Unfortunately, I have seen health club members fly off the stability balls in every direction.  If you are not sure about your ability and want to learn to use the stability ball in your practice, you should join a class that uses a balancing ball or seek the guidance of a competent Yoga teacher who is familiar with using the ball.  Some Yoga certification courses devote a day or two to the the use of stability balls for a prop or for therapeutic use. 

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