Do you love balancing poses – that feeling of perfect alignment, lift and lightness – or are you one of those yoga students who inwardly groans when the teacher cues Vrksasana (Tree Pose)?
If your Tree’s swaying in the wind, and your Eagle is a little shaky on its perch, it’s time to learn the secrets of great balance – and the good news is that it’s easier than you think.
The first mistake most students make when it comes to balancing is to hold their breath. It seems a natural thing to do when we’re concentrating (and trying hard not to fall over), but, in fact, the body tends to tighten when we restrict how we breathe. Just as breathing becomes shallower when we tense up through fear or pain, holding the breath communicates crisis to the body – which is not conducive to standing on one leg!
Instead, as counterintuitive as it might seem, it’s important to breathe as naturally as possible in balancing poses (as, indeed, it is in all asanas). Let the breath flow in an unrestricted way in and out of the nose, and you will instantly feel calmer and notice a deeper relaxation in the body, which will make it easier to ‘let go’ and to find balance in the pose.
Alongside the breath, your gaze has a key tole to play in balancing poses too. In the interest of experiment, try standing on one leg while letting your eyes wander around the room. Difficult, isn’t it? Now try again, but this time keep your gaze resting steadily in one place. Don’t stare; just allow the eyes to focus softly on one spot, looking straight ahead, rather than up or down. Did you find it easier to balance?
This relaxed-but-focused gaze is known as drshti in Sanskrit, and it’s a simple but valuable tool when it comes to balancing asanas. Just make sure your focal point is something stable and not a wobbling fellow student!
Another piece of advice when it comes to perfecting balances is to spread your attention throughout the whole pose. Often when we come into Hasta Padangusthasana (Hand to Foot Pose), for example, our attention is on the raised leg, which typically means the hips will tilt and the spine move out of the vertical, so that the balance becomes compromised.
When, instead, you extend your awareness to encompass the pelvis, the spine, the arms, and the position of the head, the whole body is able to realign and come into balance. It can also be surprisingly helpful to raise the arms, as the corresponding lift through the upper body can help to redistribute the weight and improve overall balance, countering the downward pull of gravity.
And – of course – don't be afraid to use props. A wall, window ledge, or strategically placed chair can help you to perfect a pose by giving you a little extra support while you work on your alignment and balance.
Lastly, practice really does make perfect. Don’t feel self-conscious or frustrated if you don’t find your balance straight away – keep fine-tuning your efforts, reminding yourself that everybody wobbles from time to time. In fact, falling is in itself a way of finding balance. After all, we are constantly in a state of flux, and balance is never static.
Learn to embrace your imbalances, and you’ll find more equilibrium, on and off the mat.