Balance begins from the inside out and the ability to stay steady depends on a variety of factors, whether you’re in Tree Pose (Vrikshasana), Boat Pose (Navasana), Eagle Pose (Garudasana) or a host of others. For the balance-challenged, we offer a few simple tips to help you cultivate stillness, no matter what pose you’re working with.
First, go back to the breath. Breath is the bridge between mind and body, so stop trying to rein in scattered thoughts and start instead with breathing. The tendency in balance poses is to hold the breath to keep the body still, but the tension this creates has the opposite effect. Ease up and breathe naturally—when the breath becomes steady and effortless, the mind and body can relax.
Develop drishti (focused gazing). Wherever the eyes go (to the teacher, a mirror, the person next to you), the attention follows. In other words, if the gaze is restless, so is the mind. Focus on a single unmoving point a few feet away, and the strength of your gaze will support you like another limb. The closer your point of drishti, the more stable your balance, so if you want to challenge yourself, progressively shift your focus to a point farther away. The ultimate balance challenge: Close your eyes and focus within.
Establish your foundation. You’ve probably heard the cue to “ground through your feet” so often that you’ve stopped hearing it at all. Listen with a beginner’s mind: Press firmly through the corners of the feet, while lifting the arches and relaxing the toes. The next stage is to take these same principles of grounding/lifting in standing poses and apply them to other balancing poses. For instance, in Handstand, are rooting through the corners of your hands? In Boat Pose, are you anchoring your sitting bones (ischial tuberosities)? Can you feel spaciousness and a sense of uplift between your roots as you explore the foundation of different poses? What changes when you move from Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to the one-legged version? Or from Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to Dancer Pose (Natarajasana)? What stays the same?
As you practice, scan yourself for misalignments. Anatomy is a game of dominoes. For example, torqueing the hips in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) to get the leg higher or the knee further to the side (i.e., faking a rotation that isn’t there) will throw off the spine, hips, thighs, knees, etc. Until you are able to sense internally when your alignment is off, use external cues: the front hip points (ASIS or anterior superior iliac spine); the tops of the hips (iliac crest); the “plumb line” of the ears, shoulders, hips, etc. If you have past injuries or chronic conditions that impact your balance, seek your teacher’s advice about modifications, props or therapeutic poses.
Finally, practice self-compassion. Because balance is an inner state, it may shift from day to day, or even in the midst of an asana practice. Be patient and persistent but not attached. That is, aim high but don’t cling to the idea of achieving the perfect pose. The harder you try to be perfect, the more you’ll struggle internally and the shakier your balance will become. Perfection is one of yoga’s greatest paradoxes. Reconciling the difference between what is and what we desire is one of the greatest lessons that balance poses can teach us.
What have you noticed about finding balance during an asana class?