I really enjoyed putting together and practicing the class I taught this week. It was just as much a challenge for me as it was for people in the classes!
Although balance is a key part of physical fitness, it’s not something that people often practice or try to improve. Being able to maintain your balance obviously means you’re less likely to suffer from falls, but practicing balance has the added benefit of strengthening your legs, improving your ability to focus and it gives your core a great work out. It also helps to develop the sensitivity and muscle control needed to progress with your yoga practice.
We started easy. Tadasana. It’s a pose that nearly all the standing poses flows through and there are actions in Tadasana which occur in lots of other poses. This week we used it to help develop awareness of the work your body does to keep you upright. It’s surprising just how busy it is when you start to really focus on what’s happening. The first thing you notice is the pressure changes in the soles of your feet, then the work that’s happening the muscles in your ankles, calves and thighs. By taking the awareness inside the body to become aware of all this we begin to develop our ability to maintain balance by using more than visual cues.
From Tadasana we moved into Urdvha Hastasana, then Utkatasana and finally Uttanasana. And then we reversed the sequence. The different poses change where our centre of gravity is and allow us to improve our awareness of what we need to do to maintain balance in a range of positions. We did this sequence first with feet hip width, then with feet together. The ankles really do some work when you have your feet together in Uttansana.
Things then moved up a gear as we started to practice one-legged balances. Balancing on one, successfully, requires your full attention. If you get distracted by any external or internal stimuli you’re going to lose your balance.
It’s a tough sequence this and develops strength in the legs and core. First, place a loop of a belt/strap around the middle of your right foot and hold the strap in your right hand, standing in Tadasana with your feet together. Bring your right foot up into Vrksasana Tree pose) and place the length of the belt over your right thigh. Hold for 5 breaths, if possible with your arms straight up – this lifts your normal centre of gravity and increases the difficulty. After 5 breaths take hold of the belt in your right hand and extend your right leg forward for Utthita Padangustasana. Your right leg should be roughly parallel to the floor. Hold for 5 breaths, again, with your left arm straight up if possible. Then take your right leg out to the side and hold for 5 breaths before bringing your right heel back into your left thigh to finish with a further 5 breaths in Vrksasana. Repeat on the left.
After the one legged sequence we practiced Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana as preparation for our final pose – Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3).
This pose really is a balancing act, the hands are reaching forward and the raised foot is pushing back as if there’s a tug-of-war going on between the two. But far from being the problem with the pose, this is really the solution. Reaching out forwards and backwards helps to bring equilbrium to the pose, and if you push down well into your standing foot, straighten the standing leg and engage your core muscles you’ll find your balance.