Disclaimer: I am not a yoga instructor. I don't know anything about exercise safety or fitness instruction. I'm not even an advanced practitioner of yoga. But I have come to love yoga and am completely self taught.
You know your own body best, so please respect your known health conditions and use the variations offered by instructors that are best for you. Remember to balance where you are now with where you could be in the future. There is no perfect pose. Balance: For Real, This Time!
So blah, blah, balance blah blah, there are actually postures in yoga devoted to balance. It's not just a metaphor or a psychological state!
Chair has elements of balance in it, especially when you are new to the posture and if you are twisting it.
Warrior I also has balance elements, and in fact illustrates one of the most important things you should know about balance.
Balance is not, strictly, about coordination. It helps to be coordinated, but there are at least three things you can do, or learn to do, that will make you more coordinated today: learn and use correct foot positions, engage your core, and find good focus points for your eyes.
Have you felt unsteady in Warrior I at all? If so, check your foot placement. Balance poses change the structure of your base. In standing postures where both feet are on the ground, you can often improve your balance right away by making certain that your feet are placed correctly. If your Warrior I is wobbly, check that your heels are aligned with the heel of your front foot directly in front of the heel of the back foot. In Warrior II
, the heel of the front foot should be in alignment with the arch of the back foot. When you are doing a high lunge
with a prayer twist, it helps to move your front foot out some, so you are not "on such a tightrope" as Brian Kest puts it. Correct foot placement can give you instant, surprising improvement in balance.
Second, balance often depends on stability in the core. If you are standing on one leg, your thighs and glutes are obviously doing a lot of work, holding you up, stabilizing your pelvis. Your abs are supporting your lower back and lifting your chest. Be aware when you are balancing of what is happening in your core. Engage your abs and your thighs. Of course, you will find that as you simply get stronger in these areas, balancing should become easier, but being deliberately attentive to your muscle engagement can help even from the beginning.
Finally, a very large component of balance has to do with your eyes. Believe it or not, if you can find a point of focus, your balance will instantly improve. I learned this when I was transitioning from Eagle
to Dancing Shiva
. When I find a point in front of me and focus my eyes on that point, I can shift from one posture to the other with hardly a wobble. The importance of your visual field to balance is probably one of the reasons why balance poses such as Tree
, or even Warrior I, become more difficult when you shift your focus from a point in front of you upward towards your raised hands. Moving your eyes disturbs your equilibrium.
Roger Cole has an excellent article at www.yogajournal.com titled "Plumb Perfect
" that addresses these practical issues, as well as the larger issue of focus in balance poses. He also argues that balance poses bring calm despite their difficulty because they require total attention to the action.Yoga and Mindfulness: Movement Meditation
Yoga is often called "movement meditation." Even if you approach yoga without any intent to seek a "spiritual" component, yoga's very nature requires careful attentiveness to the details of your body's movement. You are constantly monitoring your breathing and it's placement with the movements. The movements themselves are difficult and often uncomfortable. Your mind is in the moment, focused on the action of your legs, your core, your heart center, your arm placement, the focus of your eyes. This attentiveness is a beginners way to the "mindfulness" that people achieve when the meditate. You concentrate so much on the small details, that you are no longer distracted by the noise of the larger world around you, or the thoughts inside your own head. Yoga helps to bring you into this state of mindfulness, and balance poses are an important tool to bring your mind into the moment.Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III)
I was tickled when rydra_wong
complained that Warrior III
doesn't get enough love, because I knew from the beginning that this would be the first balance pose I suggested for a beginner.
It is not a complicated pose to understand, as you will see when you review the link to Yoga Journal.
Links to YouTube:Virabhadrasana III demonstrated by Yoga Poses with SonjaDemonstration with Core Power
: with still photos only, but excellent instruction.Sadie Nardini gives instruction on all three Warrior postures
Here's how to work Warrior III into your Surya Namaskar B sequence. Perform the usual vinyasa. Settle into Warrior I. Then shift your weight onto your front leg, bending your torso forward over the front knee and feel like you are "stepping" forward, lifting your back leg and extending your arms in front of you. Hold the posture for three to five long steady breaths, then drop your back leg, "stepping" back into Vira I, then to Downward Dog.
I have found that for me the critical element of Vira III is to remember the power of the lifted leg. More than one instructor comments that you should imagine "shooting energy" though the back heel. When I think about that, I engage the glutes on the lifted leg, and possibly engage the thigh more firmly as well. This brings lift to the back leg and more stability to the pelvis, which makes my balance more firm. Also, I learned to do this posture with my hands palms together, stretching away. Eye focus should be the thumbs. If that doesn't bring enough stability, then focus on a still point beyond your thumbs.
Remember to keep your grounded leg fluid. Do not lock the knee. Imagine that leg is buoyant, and engage the muscles in your thigh, as if you were lifting up the kneecap. You are going to have wobble in this posture, especially at the beginning. Handle the wobble calmly. If you fall, no big deal. Reset and try again.Other resources
Another resource you might want to review is Julie Gudmestad's article "Yoga Anatomy – Help for Standing Balances"
And in case you, like me, really want to see what the "core muscles" are: Wikipedia entry on core muscles