Yoga Balance Challenge

Develop strength, grace and poise with this standing balance sequence. These are some of my favourite yoga postures. Yoga is all about integration and to stand steady and focused on one leg involves so many different functions working together in a controlled way: strength, co-ordination, proprioception, respiration, mental focus and more.

Balance is also a movement skill and there’s plenty of room for improvement with practice if you find you’re wobbly when you start coming to yoga. Our sense of balance develops as small children learning to stand on one leg or ride a bike. It diminishes as we get older and we become more prone to slips, trips and falls but, as yogis know, this is not inevitable and can be reversed.

There are three ways to do this sequence:

  1. To get going: Start with your stronger leg, repeat with the second one, doing each pose in turn, staying for up to four breaths on each leg. Stand close to the wall so you can use it to steady yourself if necessary.
  2. For a bit more of a challenge:  Extend the amount of time you stay in each pose for up to eight breaths or try doing the complete series of postures on one leg, and then repeat on the other side. Start with the weaker leg first.
  3. Test yourself: Make the sequence into a flowing vinyasa, moving from one posture to another without lowering your raised leg. See the video. Again start with the weaker side.

Whatever you do it’s important to work in bare feet and keep your eyes open, gazing on a fixed point. Always make sure you have a firm base of support. This will keep you steady as your centre of gravity changes moving from one pose to the next.

This sequence can be practised on its own or after the standing poses on the previous blog. 

Start in Tadasana or mountain pose, feet hip distance apart. Take some time and allow yourself to feel grounded in this pose, being aware of your posture, the parts of your feet in contact with the floor. Let the feet relax, letting the toes spread and feel a sense of the weight evenly distributed front and back, left and right. When you’re ready lift one leg up in front of you and hold onto the shin with interlaced hands.

  

If that feels ok, try holding the raised leg with just one hand, then take the leg out to the side, opening the hip. You can use the free arm as a counter-balance. Try also doing a quad stretch, holding onto the foot, with the knee pointing down to the floor, drawing the leg back and maybe feeling a stretch in the hip flexor.

    

Hold onto the big toe of the raised foot with the first two fingers of your hand and try to extend the leg forward into Uttitha Hasta Padanghustasana (Extended hand to foot). Don’t worry if it doesn’t straighten completely but try not to allow the supporting leg to bend. You can advance this pose by then taking the raised leg out to the side. Again use your free arm as a counter-balance.

From here move into Vrksasana (Tree pose).  In this version the raised leg is turned out at the hip with the foot resting against the inner thigh of the supporting leg (beginners may want to start with their foot against the calf, or even the ankle of the other leg).  Bring your hands into prayer position and either have them at your heart centre or raise them up and overhead as in the picture.

Next comes Natarajasana (Dancer). Hold onto the foot or ankle of the raised leg and return to the earlier quad stretch position. From here lift your free arm up and then reach forward as you take the raised leg up and back. This posture is sometimes called upward bow, and you can imagine a bow string connecting the fingers of the forward hand to the toes of the raised foot.

To release let go of your foot and allow it to stretch back, pointing the toes as you bring both arms forward allowing your body to be parallel to the floor, moving into Virabhadrasana III. Alternatively come into Virabhadrasana III from Tadasana. Step forward with your weight bearing leg, then raise your arms up overhead and lift the back foot off the floor. Visualise yourself changing from the bow shape of dancer into a strong, straight arrow.

To exit, drop your hands down to the floor into standing splits and then flexing the foot of your raised leg so the heel reaches away, lift the arm on the same side up towards the sky into Ardha Chandrasana. When steady turn your head so your gaze is up to your extended arm. Exit by lowering your hand then your foot and rest for a few breaths in Uttanasana before standing up.