The one set of poses that always seem to be the most frustrating to all of my students are the ones that involve balance. And we’re not talking about arm balances here, because even those have a clear measurement for progress. It’s the balancing poses that require you to stand on one foot that seem to puzzle most people.
Balancing poses are so frustrating because in order to improve balance you have to let go of your expectations. Whereas most other poses you can use a combination of effort and pure strength to muscle through to a variation of the pose, in balancing the more you try the less likely you are to stay still.
People often tell me they can’t balance or that they have terrible balance as if it’s a permanent degenerative autoimmune disease that can’t be fixed or cured. This is untrue. The cure is practice.
To improve balance, you’ll need a few tools. Almost all of them have to do with your mind.
1. Let go of your expectations
As I mentioned above, when we practice most other poses over and over again we begin to see improvement, or at least feel better. Our bodies change every single day based on what is happening to us in our external and internal environments — what we’re eating, what types of exercises and stretches we’re doing, etc.
There is no other indicator better then a balancing pose to let us know where our bodies are. If we’re off balance, it will be harder to balance on one foot and concentrate. If we’re in balance, then those poses might be a breeze.
This is why balancing is so frustrating. One day you’re spot on and the next day you’re toppling over. Sometimes it even seems like you’re regressing. But you’re not. Your body is just reacting to whatever is going on in your life.
Instead of getting frustrated, try to use your balancing ability as an indicator for what you need. If you’re spot on, you’re in a good place and can do some more strengthening poses/exercises/activity. If you’re having trouble, take some time to rest and pick a few restorative poses/exercises/activities to bring peace back into your body and mind.
Your ability to balance is almost all in your head. If you tell yourself you’re horrible at balancing, you probably will be. You’ll try so hard to overcome your horribleness that you’ll be unable to focus because there will be a mean little voice in your head constantly reminding you how much you suck. It doesn’t matter what type of pose or activity you’re doing, if someone is telling you over and over again that you suck it will start to affect your performance!
In yoga we use the “drishti” or gaze to help us focus our minds and release external distractions. Focus on one point in front of you, something that isn’t moving, to help you balance. It can be a spot on the wall or the floor. Bring all of your focus there and try not to pay attention to anything else except your breath. This will settle your mind and allow you to focus on the task at hand.
3. There is no such thing as balance
By this I mean when most people think of balancing they think of a state of stillness. This is a false state, as our body is never completely 100% still, except maybe when we’re unconscious. When you’re balancing on one foot, it’s easy to get distracted by all the tendons and ligaments in your foot moving around to keep you “still.” The more you can become comfortable with all that movement, the better you’ll be able to balance. This is what yoga is really all about anyway. If you can become comfortable in the midst of chaos, you’ll thrive.
The last part of balance is strength. Balancing poses help strengthen the muscles around your joints, which, it turns out, is pretty helpful. These poses also help strengthen your legs and . This is why in a full yoga class, we typically include some strength-building poses to prepare you for a balancing pose sequence.
If you don’t feel like you’re strong enough to balance on one leg yet, then use some props to help you until you do build that strength — and be sure you’re practicing some of the strength-building poses like the warrior poses as well. The best prop for balancing poses is the wall 😉
The evolution of 5 Minute Yoga
I think I’ve about given up on 5-minute yoga. I’m just too passionate about this practice to fit everything into 5 minutes. It doesn’t do it justice. I know that 5 minutes is uber-convenient, but I really think I’m going to have to give you 10-minute yoga instead. You’ll get more out of it, you’ll feel even better, and your mind will become more clear. It’s a win-win-win all around. I hope that it’s still convenient for you and your schedule.
Here are some balancing poses for you to practice today to help you improve your balance.