Often, I have people ask me how they can get better at balancing poses. I think many people will find their balance unexplainedly changes from day to day. We find that on some days we have the wobbles and at other times we are as steady as a mountain. Some of the factors that change our balance from day to day go beyond the mat and could have to do with lifestyle choices of what we eat and drink, and our emotions..
However on the mat, the mountain analogy is a good one. If we can be just like a mountain, steady, strong and stable in our poses then some of our balance issues should resolve
Becoming steady like a mountain is a lot easier when you are one pointedly focused. A wavering mind makes for a wavering pose. Have you noticed that if you look at someone who is faltering in their pose that you are more inclined to falter also? The mind has such a big influence on our balance. The other day in Tree Pose the teacher was waxing lyrical, asking the students to visualize a tree, tall and strong (yes that felt good), branches waving in the wind. Oops that got me… the suggestion of the movement was enough to get me moving too. Focusing on one non-moving point in front of you will help the mind be still and the pose steady.
How’s Your Base?
Steadiness and stability in the pose is also brought about by being really well grounded through the base of the pose. So, if it is a one-legged standing pose think of spreading the toes as wide as you can. The toes are really important for our balance in all standing poses and even throughout the day when we are moving around. One time some years back I heard of a lady who didn’t like the length of her toes, so she got them surgically reduced to make them ‘prettier’. Not long after the surgery healed, she noticed that she was tripping over a lot more. She learnt the hard way how important the toes are for balance!
When the toes are spread wide, we want to make sure we are pressing down into all four corners of the feet. This provides a great base from which to build a strong and steady pose.
Switch on Those Support Muscles
However, the stability of the base must always be supported by the strength of the foundational muscles. The legs, pelvis and the core. These supporting muscles need to be engaged, but not clenched, while we maintain our Mountain Pose alignment. This alignment provides the support of the skeleton in which case the joints are all stacked in line with the ones below and above so that we are in the ideally balanced position to start with.
Our breathing also has a part to play in our balance. The breath should be steady. You will probably find the breath is intimately integrated with how balanced the pose is and so keep your breath calm and balanced, the inward and outward breaths of the same length.
One Step at a Time
If we are very balance challenged in any pose we should build up to a full pose by taking tiny steps. For example in Tree Pose we can start strengthening the standing leg and ankle by keeping the toes of the lifted leg on the floor, just lifting the heel. Then progress to swiveling at the hip so the sole of the foot is placed on the inner ankle. Once that is established, maybe after many days of consistent practice, we can then progress to placing the foot on the calf and so on.
Another challenge of balancing poses is staying steady while moving into the pose. Back to our tree pose we may become unsteady as we lift our foot to the inner thigh or calf or maybe as we raise the arms. It is good to face these challenges slowly and methodically. Find out how far you can take your foot or arms upwards before you start wobbling. Stay there and gradually with focus take them step by step a little higher. Of course, the same applies coming out of the pose. Take your descent step by step with control. Also increase your focus and steadiness by aligning your breathing with your movement.
Even non-balance standing poses can improve your balance simply by helping to train your focus and strengthen your foundation, but you can also add a balance challenge by lifting your heel and coming onto your toes in some of your poses. For example try the balance challenge of lifting up onto the heels in Chair Pose or Goddess.
Have fun applying these hints to your balancing poses and see if they take out the wobbles, but if they don’t you might want to look into checking out with a medical practitioner whether the issue is coming from the inner ear.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training