Balancing is tricky even for the most ‘balanced’ of us. Yoga classes include balance work as it’s the perfect way to challenge ourselves physically but more importantly, mentally. It’s hard to worry about the nonsense and white noise churning in our heads when we are balanced on one foot making crazy shapes with our body AND still trying to breathe!
All the more reason to practice balances I’d say – to give your mind a rest, a chance to clear out the junk, and at the same time build strength in the body and confidence in ourselves to do the unthinkable… So maybe the real benefit is in finding more emotional balance within ourselves, working through the body as our tool to find contentment within.
I’ve written an exploration of a lot of people’s all-time favourite balance – tree pose or vrksasana. The steps written here can apply to all balances so feel free to adapt these tips for any postures you’re working on.
Tip 1. Groundwork: Root down
Start as you wish to go on. Find a firm level base (preferably not a tree trunk like me!) and focus on your balance here. Make sure you’re weighted evenly on both feet and aren’t shifting your body weight to one side. Press firmly into the heels and side blades of the feet to create a solid base and switch on the thighs. Moving up to the navel now, focus on how you are breathing. Try to equalise the inhale with the exhale and send the breath down deep to the low belly.
Tip 2. Switch on: Rise up
Once the legs are switched on, hug the low ribs in towards each other and squeeze your pelvic floor. Bring the hands to heart centre and lift the heart into the thumbs. Notice that you feel strong, centred, balanced and calm right here.
When you’re ready and have found that connection to the present moment. Shift the weight into your chosen standing leg and lift the other bringing the sole of the foot either to the ankle, calf or inner thigh.
Never put pressure on a joint so don’t land the sole of the foot anywhere near the knee!
Press the sole of the foot into the midline at the same time as pressing the standing leg into the sole of the foot. Feel the opposing forces and keep squeezing into your centre.
Your standing leg is rooted firmly down. Your top body is straight, lifted, engaged and the crown of the head is rising as the collar bones are widening. Draw the shoulders back and down to open the heart space.
Tip 3. Focus on how you feel
I try to remember to say in every class that yoga is not about how it looks, it’s about how you feel before, during and after your practice. Instagram and social media would tell us otherwise but yoga is NOT about flexibility and fancy poses! Try to remember this fact when you find your balance. Focus on how the body feels here, how your breathing, the dance of the muscles in the standing foot and all the incredible things working together in the body to get you here.
If the body wants to move in your balance, then try different variations and modifications. In tree pose, nice variations to try are placing the hands up above, up above and open swaying side to side to heart centre, opened in chin mudra (thumb to second finger), or wide open and swaying your branches getting some core work and stretching into the side waist.
Tip 4. Smile!
If you wobble, it’s ok! If you fall over, it’s ok! Remember it is just a balance, smile, laugh it off and give it another go. The more we push, perhaps the more we wobble… Maybe the more we let go and believe that we can do it, the more we rise up and fly! Don’t let yourself feel defeated as yoga is about the journey, not the goal. Yoga is not a competitive sport. No one cares if you are great at popping out a yogic squat or dancer’s pose. They worry about whether you are a good person and your heart’s in the right place.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us that the second you think you’ve mastered yoga or a particular asana (posture), the universe will set you back a few paces. There is no end to yoga or a final level to attain, it just keeps getting harder and more challenging – the pleasure is in the journey. The more you resign yourself to that fact and surrender, the further you are likely to progress in your practice and contentment on the mat.
Let it go and let your movements and expressions come from the heart rather than from the ego. Just have some fun and see what happens!
Tip 5. Challenge yourself
It’s always fine to use a chair, a wall, a bar, anything to hold you up. However, try not to use this for too long or you will never feel safe to come away from that support. Remember, you are your best support! No one or nothing else!
If you’ve found a place in your balance where you feel pretty solid, your body is working in harmony with your breath and your mind is still then try closing the eyes or moving the gaze, up, down and around. Keep the head still but move the eyes and perhaps even close them for the last few breaths of the balance. My own practice is that when I come to close my eyes I visualize a special tree from my childhood where my grandparents lived – somewhere me and my cousins used to play.
This solid, safe, secure childhood memory of a stunning old oak tree holds me and keeps me still and balanced in my physical balance.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post and found it helpful please leave me a comment – I’m always open to your feedback and love hearing from you!