4 ways to work with yoga balance poses
Achieving balance in our lives has been a big, hot topic of discussion for some time now in digital and written media. Eating a balanced diet, getting the right work-life balance, and I suppose multi-tasking is a form of balance too (if we manage to do this successfully!). And Hatha yoga is about balance – working towards balancing the body and mind, using the breath, to find a place of centeredness in our being.
But I have been thinking about physical balance in the yoga postures, the arm and leg balances. These are really fun to work with, but can be quite challenging because we need to work on different levels at the same time. They are also challenging because our lifestyle tends to be on the sedentary side, we do a lot of sitting: in cars, on trains/buses, in chairs at home and in offices etc. This affects our posture, which in turn impacts our physical ability to balance.
So here are four levels, and also the benefits, of asana balances that I feel are important:
Core strength - physical
This is fairly obvious – we need to have a strong and solid centre to maintain the integrity, the structure, of the balancing pose. Balances offer an all-over-body workout as we engage muscles from top to toe.
Confidence - Emotional
Since we are usually not required to stand on one leg, or balance on our arms, as part of our daily life, it can feel scary when we first try to do these postures. This fear is something we develop as we enter adulthood, I guess, because I can remember doing handstands, one-armed cartwheels etc as a child and not ever worrying about it, it just came naturally in play. So we need to reconnect to self-belief, open ourselves to a place of calm and confidence when we do balances.
I’ve noticed there is a direct connection between emotions and physical balance – if I feel angry, frustrated or emotionally out of sorts in any way, I just can’t do balance postures. It becomes too much of a strain and I can’t hold them.
Concentration - mental
Most yoga balance postures activate the Third Eye, Ajna Chakra, which is in the middle of our forehead. This area is associated with the higher intellect and superior mind.
So we need to literally concentrate when we pick a spot on the floor or wall in front of us and focus there to help get into and hold the posture.
However, at the same time there is the energetic aspect via the Ajna Chakra – working with balances can give us a sense of clarity, discernment and lucidity. Your mind can quite simply not wander because full attention is required to hold the balance. In this way it’s a great stress-reliever!
Connection - Spiritual
I believe working with balances has a “big picture” element as well. Every day we walk, sit, stand and are largely unaware of the earth beneath that supports us. We have a natural attraction to the earth, a “pull” if you like – physics calls it gravity – that we take for granted. But in yoga balances we can consciously work with this connection spiritually.
Once in the balance, say, on one leg, take your awareness to the sole of the standing foot and feel the subtle pressure into the floor/ground going through it. The rebound from the earth comes back through the foot and lifts the body upwards, through the legs, spine and crown of the head towards the sky. Working in this way can be a literally uplifting experience as we take strength and comfort from the earth to support the posture.
A word about wobbling!
Embrace the wobble! An article in The Yoga Journal states “true balance occurs in the middle of the oscillation; the side to side rocking is the result of the ankle’s positional sensors relaying information to your brain’s balance system….[therefore] internally gaze at the moving ankle of the standing leg and visualize the ankle shifting back and forth. Your wobble will result in more equanimity in the pose and an increase in the amount of time you can stand on one foot.”