This month, our theme is balance, so in this article we share seven tips to help you to improve your balance in yoga. There are many fantastic asanas in yoga in which you need to find a place of balance. Think about warrior 3, dancer, eagle, half-moon pose or crow, shoulder-stand, handstand and headstand, to name a few. For people new to yoga, some of these asanas seem completely out of our league. However, with practice you will soon start to notice improvements in your balance and some of these positions start to get more comfortable. The bonus is that as we find balance on our yoga mat, this balanced approach starts to filter into our lives.
What helps us to balance?
There are three key things that can help us to find our balance in yoga:
Having a point of focus for the eyes can help to find a balance. Focus also refers to focusing your mind into the present moment, so that the mind is calm, still. A calm mind (no mind chatter) can bring balance. This benefits us on the mat, and also off the mat!
Many balancing asanas in yoga require strength in the body. For example, standing balances need good hip strength, as well as in the legs and a strong core. Arm balances need strength in the core and in the shoulders and arms. However, do not fear! You do not need to work out in the gym lifting weights or have muscles like a body builder! Practicing yoga regularly develops a deep inner body strength, physically and mentally. To you’re your balance in yoga, you need to believe that you can do it.
- The ability to adjust
Even when we think we are in balance, the body is always making tiny minor adjustments. If you think about standing up, on two feet, your body may seem to be unmoving, in balance, but it is moving slightly all the time. Try it. They try standing on one foot – if you focus inside you will feel the tiny adjustments in the muscles, in the distribution of the weight in each moment. This flexibility to adjust helps us in our balance.
Seven tips to improve your balance in yoga
Below I share seven tips to help you to improve your balance in yoga.
Tip 1. Start simple
Start with Tadasana – mountain pose. Many people rush past this position and see it as simply standing up. However, mountain pose is the base for almost all standing positions, particularly the standing balances. If you can feel strong, grounded and balanced in mountain pose, you can take this into your other balances.
Tip 2. Build up to it
Many balancing asanas have positions that you can try first. Don´t rush to get to positions that you might see on Instagram, or on TV or in magazines, where stick-thin women (and men) put their bodies into various complicated shapes and seemingly seem to balance their whole body on their little finger.
As mentioned above to be able to balance well in yoga, you need to develop strength in your body. Yoga is a weight-bearing exercise, you are supporting the weight of your body in each position, so, for example in a Hatha class, many of the positions will be working to build strength (as well as flexibility). Downward dog, one of the most iconic yoga asanas, works to develop strength in the upper body, core and legs (as well as flexibility). Boat pose and plank both work to develop our core strength. You can also try some specific exercises to build strength. For example, we can work to develop our hip strength using a cork block. Find a strong solid block, stand your left foot on it and have the right foot at the same height (you can also try this on the bottom step). Move the leg forward and backwards, slowly, with control, all the time keeping the hip bones level. This is a simple exercise that will develop the strength in your hip muscles, which will make your standing balances much easier. Remember to do both legs! Simple leg lifts – lying on your back and lifting first one leg, then the other, then both legs together – help to increase our core strength, which is needed in almost all balance asanas.
Tip 3. Ground the body
Whichever balance asana you are practicing, make the time to ground your body. In standing balances, ground the feet. Plant them solidly to the earth. In arm balances, ground the hands or forearms. Create a solid base. Feel the connection first, before moving on.
Tip 4. Start from the base of the balance then move upwards
When you want to come into a balancing position start with the base. For example, in Tree pose (Vrksasana) start with your attention on both of your feet. Feel the shift of the weight into one foot and through one side of the body. Feel the adjustments all the way up the body, engaging muscles in the legs, hips, core, tucking in the pelvis, dropping the shoulders and feeling the lift from the top of the head to the sky. Once you find that place of stillness, then make the move into tree by lifting the other foot and bringing it to the leg. Place the hands into position. Breathe. In headstand, create a solid base with the arms. Open through the shoulders. Engage your core. Using the core strength lift the feet from the mat – maybe first keep your knees bent and then work to straighten the legs. Come out of the positions the same way you got into it – slowly from the top down.
Tip 5. Find a point and focus on it
There is a saying that your energy flows to where your attention (eyes) go. If your vision finds a place to rest then you will find your mind starts to settle. Pick a point in the distance – if you are doing a standing position you might choose something at waist height or higher. Use this as an anchor. Make sure the point is something static (not moving). This helps to find stillness in your mind. When the mind is calm, balancing becomes easier.
Tip 6. Adjust and flow
Practicing tree pose outside on the terrace here at the retreat is a great experience to notice how your body adjusts and flows in each second – sometimes there is a lovely sea breeze which can come into play as we practice. Balancing in yoga is not about being static – all the time the body is making tiny adjustments. Being in tune with your body means you can notice when you need to make micro adjustments. Adjusting and flowing also means that not every day is the same. One day you might find the “perfect” Eagle position and the next, you might wobble all over. Accept it. Accept you.
Tip 7. Use props
Chairs, blocks and the wall can all be useful props when you first come to practice balance. If you are new to headstands, it is helpful to practice against a wall. For standing balances having a chair next to you give you something to reach out to – the chair will need a high back.
If you are trying balance positions for the first time, we strongly recommend that you go to a yoga class first, to work with a trained yoga teacher, who can support you. Also remember, not all balances are suitable for everyone. Contraindications include – high blood pressure (avoid inversion balances like headstand), pregnancy (anything that puts too much pressure on the tummy area), or shoulder injuries. Speak to a qualified yoga teacher first.
Practice balancing at a yoga retreat
We hope this helps you to find your balance in yoga. Namaste.
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).