Having good balance doesn’t just come into play when you’re doing tree pose in yoga. You naturally tap into your balancing skills in everyday movements — think walking or leaping across puddles without falling. To improve those skills, though, you can practice yoga for balance, which can aid your overall mobility.
Whether you’re on or off the mat, your body is fighting against gravity. “Physically, our balance is simply working against the gravitational pull of the earth,” says Liza Colpa, a yoga instructor with digital platform YogaToday. “We use our strength to rise on up.” So you innately have balancing skills... but they start to decline around age 40, she explains. And that’s why it’s beneficial to hone them in your fitness routine.
According to Colpa, improving your balance is all about strengthening the muscles that support your skeletal system. That means your glutes, pelvic floor muscles, inner thighs, quadriceps, lower abdominals, and back muscles, she says. “By strengthening these areas slowly, every day, our body begins to calculate and know exactly what muscles need to work — consciously or subconsciously — to master flying against gravity,” Colpa explains.
This is something you can do in yoga. “Practicing yoga enforces that body knowledge and helps you with coordination,” says Colpa. “It also helps with quick body reactions and reflexes, so when you feel yourself falling, you can transition quickly to catch yourself.” Because many of the poses require balance — or simply your body’s strength — to hold yourself up, yoga’s a great way to train your muscles’ stability.
Something to keep in mind: Falling is OK. “Don’t fight against falling, or else you deprive your body of learning,” says Colpa. She recommends using Drishti, aka gazing at a focal point in front of you as you hold yourself still. “For beginner yogis, the key is to not forget to breathe. And, most importantly, don’t take it all so seriously — have fun,” she says. And with that, keep reading for info on how to practice yoga for balance.
How To Practice Yoga For Balance
Colpa recommends holding each pose for three to six or even 12 breaths, depending on the pace of your practice, and to move through this sequence at least three times a week to see a noticeable change.
1. Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
Stand tall and ground down through all four corners of your feet. Lift all toes and spread them as wide as you can. Make sure your inner thighs are hugging towards each other, your glutes are engaged, and you’re lifting through the crown of your head, says Colpa. Pull your belly button in as you wrap your rib cage down. Lift your arms out to the side and bring your hands into prayer. “Relax your shoulders and stay here with your eyes closed, turning into your center of gravity,” she says.
2. Tadasana Heel Lifts
From mountain pose, shift your weight to the balls of your feet and lift your heels. Engage your inner thighs towards one another as well as your quads and glutes to help you balance.
3. Standing Hand To Knee Pose
From mountain pose, shift your weight into your right foot and lift your left knee. Try to interlace your fingers around your knee as you balance. “If you fall, let go of your knee,” advises Colpa.
4. Lifted Knee To Tree Pose
Begin from standing hand to knee pose, and begin to externally rotate your left thigh outwards. Place your foot on either the inside of your right ankle or calf to get into tree pose. Repeat on the other side.
5. Grow Your Vrkasana
To further improve your balancing skills, bring your hands into prayer from tree pose, then lift your arms up as you stand tall and hold still. Repeat on the other side.
6. Standing Hand To Big Toe Posture
Once you feel comfortable in tree pose, try this variation: From tree, wrap your peace fingers around your big toe, then gently extend your foot straight in front of you. “If you can move your hand holding onto the foot out to the side, go ahead and do so,” says Colpa. For an added challenge, lift the opposite arm above your head.
Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders over your wrists. Lift your knees and walk your feet behind you until you’re in a plank. Engage your glutes and make sure your hips are in a straight line, then shift your body forward so you’re on your toes. “This pose strengthens all the muscles you will use in balance postures,” says Colpa.
8. Navasana (Boat Pose)
Start seated with your knees bent in front of you. Lean back and use your inner thighs, core, and glutes to lift your feet off the mat. “See if you can get your ankles in alignment with your knees and hold,” says Colpa. Hold and balance.
9. Straight Leg Navasana
This pose is like boat, but with the added challenge of straight legs. From navasana, point your toes up as you straighten your legs and keep your back equally elongated and straight. “Hold and feel your glutes, core, inner thigh, and quadriceps muscles all working,” says Colpa.
10. Banana Boat Pose
Begin on your back. Pull your navel in towards your spine and lift your feet, chest, shoulders, and head off your mat. Point your feet forward as you keep your legs straight. Extend your arms and reach towards your feet. Hold this position to work on your balance.
11. Balancing Cat-Cow
Begin in tabletop, then kick your right leg straight behind you, keeping your hips squared down. Engage your core as you reach your left arm forward. Then, bring your left elbow to your right knee. Alternate sides.
12. Modified Side Plank
From tabletop, shift your weight into your right hand as you open your body to the left side. Extend your left leg out straight and keep your foot planted on the ground. Stack your hips and reach your left hand up towards the sky. “To add an extra element, lift your back left foot to come in alignment with the hips and keep your balance,” says Colpa.
13. High Lunge
From downward dog, step your right foot in between your hands. Make sure your feet are a hip-width distance apart. Hug your inner thighs in and use your core to lift your torso above your hips and reach your arms straight overhead. Colpa notes that your back heel should be lifted. Hold and repeat on the other side.
Lee, I. (2013). Balance Improvement by Strength Training for the Elderly. Journal of Physical Therapy Science. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3885846/
Polsgrove, M. (2016). Impact of 10-weeks of yoga practice on flexibility and balance of college athletes. International Journal of Yoga. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728955/