Do you struggle to find your centre and maintain balance on the mat? If you do, I’ve got 9 ways to boost your balance in any yoga pose. From engaging specific muscles to visualizing a strong foundation, these tips will help take your practice to the next level. So, roll out your mat, grab a block or two, and let’s get to it!
1. Find Your Focal Point
Focusing on a tiny, unmoving spot calms the mind and anchors your attention to the immediate moment. Yogis call this “drishti.” There are three main drishtis used in yoga poses: your third eye (just between the eyebrows) your navel, and “upward looking” (for example, your upper hand in Trikonasana [Triangle Pose]). Any small and unmoving point will do, but as you gain experience on the mat, you’ll want to transition to these three.
Set your drishti and gaze softly on that point until you exit the pose.
2. Use Props
If you’re feeling unsteady or working on a more advanced pose, props can support you. Blocks and straps (or household items in lieu of these) let you experience how it feels to be in the pose without first mastering balance and flexibility. Place a block under your hand in Ardha Chandrasana, for example, or let your fingertips graze the wall as you explore a new version of Vrksasana. A strap can be used to foster a connection with your inner dancer (Natarajasana), whereas blocks under the feet provide a new experience for your core in Bakasana. Have fun with it!
3. Use Ujjayi Breathing
Ujjayi breath, sometimes called “ocean-sounding breath", is slow, deep nostril breathing with a soft constriction of the throat. The result is an audible “purring” that's as soothing and rhythmic as ocean waves. Ujjayi gives the mind an audible “point of focus” while engaging your core at the same time.
With practice, increase the depth, decrease the volume, and extend the duration of each breath in and out.
4. Visualize Success
Before moving into your balance pose, visualize the steps you’ll take to get there. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and objectively view yourself step-by-step success. This really works! Studies have shown that visualization can increase your rate of success in any task, whether winning a race or acing a test. It’s worth a try!
5. Consider Core Strength
Engaging your abdominals helps stabilize the spine and pelvis and provides a solid foundation upon which to build a yoga pose.
To activate your core, draw your navel towards your spine to help tone the abdominals and protect your low back. Then, imagine holding a tennis ball between your front hip bones. Notice how the pelvis shifts, the deep abdominals contract, and the pelvis stabilizes. Don’t despair if you think you aren’t “getting it.” Your body knows what it needs to do but sometimes appreciates a little reminder.
6. Make Muscle Memories
Muscle memory is accumulated from doing the same poses over and over until your body’s accustomed to them. Once your muscles have learned the movements, it’s much easier both to obtain and sustain a posture that initially seemed impossible. (The adage “practise makes perfect” is muscle memory at its best.) Start with simple postures and increase the complexity or intensity as you go. Introduce your brain to the movement you want to attain by focusing on the anatomical details of a pose. Consistency is key.
7. Move Slowly
In vinyasa yoga, how you get to the pose is just as important as the pose itself. (Cliché, anyone?) In fact, transitioning smoothly among postures can demand even more skill than a single asana does on its own. So, sloooow down.
Moving slowly gives the body time to adjust and stabilize to the micro-movements culminating in a final pose. Smooth transitions nurture an inner rhythm. Finally, moving slowly and deliberately among postures nurtures proprioception, which aids strength, flexibility, coordination, stability, and muscle memory–all key determinants of our ability to balance.
8. Have Fun with Variety
With time, you’ll discover myriad options for refining your technique and expanding your asana repertoire. Exploring versions or variations of the same pose keeps even the most easily distracted mind engaged. One small change can require recalibration of the mind. Try looking up instead of down or left instead of forward; rise onto your toes in a basic pose (like Mountain/Tadasana); or take a long blink.
That said, I’ve been doing Tree Pose (Vrksasana) for nearly two decades and I still lose my balance sometimes. Simple is not the same as easy.
9. Try Mula Bandha
Mulah bandha is the Sanskrit name for the pelvic floor muscle contraction that helps you to balance by activating your deep core. To practise mullah bandha, engage the pelvic floor muscles (it feels like trying to stop urinating midstream). Hold the contraction for a few seconds and release. Practise this technique 3 to 5 times lying down or seated before engaging mula bandha in a pose that requires you to stand on one leg.
Yoga is the perfect tool for improving your balance by strengthening equilibrium of mind and body. Focus on your breath and stand on one leg. Engage your abdominals, activate mula bandha, and stand on your tiptoes. Contract your abs, vocalize the breath, and visualize your success in Bakasana (Crow Pose). Combine all nine tips or try one at a time. What matters is what works for you!
Want to learn more? Read these 3 Keys to Skillful Balancing and try the sequence provided in the blog. Let me know how it goes!