Balancing poses are possibly the most challenging and frustrating category of yoga postures. Even advanced yogis can shake and teeter while standing on one leg, especially if they are tired, distracted, agitated, or too tense. 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 have found eight simple yet powerful tips to help you cultivate internal and external stillness, no matter what pose you’re working with.
8 Ways to Improve Balance in Yoga Poses
- Be rooted in your breath. 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.
- Lock your gaze. 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 the 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?
- Check your alignment. 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.
- Build core strength. If the muscles of your core are weak they will not properly support your legs or arms in a balance pose. Engaging mula bandha and uddiyana bandha will activate your core to provide more stability in your balancing poses.
- Be kind. 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.
- Practice light-heartedness. Don’t be afraid to wobble, fall down, or use your hands. Be humble and learn to laugh when you fall out of a balancing pose. Also, take your time and enjoy moving a bit slower into the pose. Maybe even start with a less advanced variation before moving into your full expression of the pose!
- Keep practicing. It is easy to feel beaten up and discouraged after a yoga class where you repeatedly fall out of every balancing pose. While the progression in yoga is not always a straight upward path, consistent and continued practice is the only reliable method to become stronger in your balancing practice.
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How’s your balance practice going?
What have you noticed or discovered about finding balance during an asana class? What are your current challenges? Have you tried any of the above tips to improve your balance? Let us know in the comments below!