Yoga Poses for Balance
I’m writing from a hotel room in Charleston, SC. I’m in town for a few days with my mom and sister, after spending the last three days in the mountains. It’s been cold, but on the few days that the sun was out, I took advantage of the back porch - and the massive views - to sneak in some yoga flows.
If it’s not obvious, I love yoga. When I first began practicing almost seven years ago, I loved how strong it made me feel. I liked fast-paced, sweaty, athletic practices with plenty of chaturangas, Warrior poses, and core work, and I liked to breeze past anything that didn’t strike me as “necessary”: savasna, for example, or balancing poses.
Yup, I’m a yogi who hated balancing poses. Before you call the yoga police, keep reading ;)
I was once told by a very wise yogi that the state of our practice reflects the state of our minds. If our practice is fluid, graceful, strong, and focused, then we have the ability to take those concepts off of the mat and into our daily lives. If our practice is hectic, forceful, and off-balance, then not only are we missing the whole point of the practice - to slow down, drop in, soften, and breathe - but it’s safe to say that we live our lives in a similar manner.
Seven years ago, at 17, that was certainly true. I struggled with anxiety and depression, ate with little intention or care of what I was putting into my body, and thought that if only I reach a certain weight - or a certain waist measurement - I’d be happy. I was not only misguided but very, very wrong, and, looking back, it’s no surprise that I struggled with balancing poses. I had no balance in my mental, emotional, or physical health, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned since then, it’s that the practice doesn’t lie.
Flash forward seven years, and I’ve not only begun incorporating balancing poses in my everyday practice, but I’ve learned to love them: the focus and discipline required, the awareness of every part of my body, the way the breath moves in and out, lengthening and deepening the pose.
Read on for a few of my favorite yoga poses for balance.
1. Tree Pose
Tree Pose was one of my favorite poses from the very beginning, mostly because it was so (deceptively) simple. It was also one of those poses like downward dog; everyone knows how to do it, even if they’ve never practiced yoga before. But when I really started practicing, I discovered something: standing on one leg isn’t that easy.
Tree Pose is the perfect beginner balancing pose, though. Here’s how to master it:
Start standing, with your feet together, ankles and big toes touching. Inhale, feeling a line of energy moving up from your feet to the top of your head.
Bring your hands together in prayer position at the center of your chest, right in front of your heartbeat. Exhale and root down through your feet in Mountain Pose.
Shift your weight into your right foot; bend your knee, and lift it toward your chest. Keep your spine long as you reach for your left ankle. Place the left foot flat on the inner right thigh or the inner right calf, being careful to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the knee joint.
Lengthen your spine, press your tailbone toward the floor to stand tall, and find your drishti, or your focused gaze. Pick an unmoving point directly in front of you to help you balance.
Press your left foot into your right thigh or calf, and your right thigh or calf into your foot. Visualize spinning your right inner thigh upward as you square both hips to the front of your mat. Focus on your breath - inhale, exhale - and feel the gentle movement side to side or front and back with every breath. Remember, trees are not static! Leave your hands in prayer position, raise them above your head, put them on your hips…whatever feels right to you.
When you’re ready to release, exhale and let your feet meet in Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
2. Warrior III
I’m obsessed with Warriors I, II, and III, and have been incorporating as many as possible into my daily practice as long as I can remember. For the longest time, Warrior I and I weren’t on good terms (tight hips, anybody?), but after a lot of patience and hours of practice, I can honestly say there’s nothing like the foot to hip stretch that comes when you step back and settle into Warrior I.
But that’s for another day! Warrior III and I have always had a good relationship. I was so enthusiastic about the Warrior poses that I made Warrior III the first balancing pose in my practice. It’s a strong pose, requiring lots of focus, but the feeling I get when I settle in, stretch out, and breathe is unlike any other. It’s the closest thing to flying I’ve experienced (other than actually flying on an airplane). Wanna try it for yourself? Read on.
Start in Mountain Pose (exactly like you did for Tree Pose), with your ankles and big toes touching. Inhale, lifting up, and feel a line of energy through the center of your body, from your feet to the top of your head.
Bring your hands together in prayer position at your heart. Exhale and root down into Mountain Pose.
Shift your weight into your right foot; inhale and lift the arms over your head, palms facing each other. On your exhale, lift your left leg up and back, hinging forward at the hips to lower the arms and chest toward the floor. (Note: you can modify this pose by keeping the hands at the sides, as shown above, or at your chest, in prayer pose. Always remember that every pose is limitless; there is no final or perfect shape.)
Lengthen your spine, press your tailbone toward the back wall, and reach reach reach through your toes and the crown of your head, finding your drishti. Make sure your hips are square over the leg, and your body is in one long line. Keep a soft bend in the knee and dig your toes into the ground like a rock climber.
When you’re ready to release, lower the leg back to the floor and step both feet together in Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
3. Dancer’s Pose
Dancer’s Pose is my favorite of all time! There’s a strength, grace, and ease in the pose that I crave in every aspect of my life. When I was working towards it, I drove my mom and sister crazy with my attempts in the kitchen while making dinner, in the living room, on the porch or the beach or the garage.
Want to improve your balance and strengthen your lower body? Read on for how to do dancer’s pose.
Start in - you guessed it - Mountain Pose, with your big toes and ankles together. Inhale and feel that long line of energy from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. Ground down into your feet, shifting your weight into your left leg.
Drop your right elbow to your right hip, letting the elbow crease shine outward and the palm face up. Bend the right knee, and grab the inside of your right foot with your right hand.
With your right knee bent and your foot in your hand, bring your knees together and find your drishti. Inhale, lifting your left arm high and lengthening the spine all the way through your left fingertips. As you exhale, begin to press your right foot into your right hand, slowly lowering your torso as your left hand reaches out in front of you.
Make sure your hips are square over your leg, and leave a soft behind in the knee as you dig your toes into the mag like a mountain climber.
When you’re ready to release, slowly lower the leg back to the floor (with control!) and step both feet together in Mountain Pose. Repeat on the other side.
P.S. Need a little help starting your home yoga practice? Check out this article on How to Start a Home Yoga Practice.
What’s your favorite balancing pose? Let me know in the comments below!