It is strange and frankly somewhat embarrassing at times that I am in a yoga teacher training course and I am not able to find my balance in a Tree pose or a warrior III. I see all my friends around me calmly standing on their strong legs and myself struggling to focus on that single point on the wall without swaying or falling over and my foot trembling like a guitar string to keep my body in place. It is overly bizarre that I feel much more balanced and confident of standing on my head in a headstand than I do on my leg. Shouldn’t it be a natural thing to be able to do? It baffles me and rattles my resolve and practice at times. I question will I ever be able to achieve that “sukha” or that “sthirta” (sthira sukham asanam, meaning that position of comfort and steadiness) that one requires in a yoga pose. I feel failed at every topple. What was even more frustrating was if you google yoga for balance, you have to encounter the same poses that you have been struggling with in the first place.
I had just accepted that this is how I am, and I am not made to stand on one leg. It is probably my flat foot or my weak thigh muscles, my thin and feeble foot or there is something wrong with my ear perhaps (there is a balance centre in the ear) or just that my brain is not able to focus at one point at all. But now that I have dived into my yoga practice more deeply, I looked for ways to take my body to where I wanted to be and I figured that along with limitations of the body that everyone has in one form or the other there are a lot of external factors that I can manage.
So, here are some of those things that you can do along with me if you are struggling to find your balance:
- Muscular stability: This is not just about strong legs or core. By muscular stability I mean finding and engaging the right muscles for the right pose. It is important to have muscular awareness as you start lifting one leg away from the floor. You need awareness in the leg muscles (outer hip) on the floor, try not to collapse on it as well as awareness of the muscles (gluteus Medius and TFL) that are going to stabilize your airborne leg. This engagement might not be an instinct, but we need muscle intelligence to practice yoga and it is no different for the balancing poses.
- Drishti: Drishti or eye focus is one of the fundamentals to gain balance in yoga poses. According to ancient yogis drishti will lead to the steadiness in a pose and helps one avoid external distractions. Hence, it is a fundamental practice point. Do you know there are eight kinds of Drishti in Yoga? This reminds me of the quote that our teacher, Master Shree once stated in one of our classes, it is from a classical book about theory of dance but it fits so well here:
Yato Hasta Stato Drushti
Yato Drushti Stato Manaha
Yato Manaha Stato Bhavom
Yato Bhavom Stato Rasaha
Translated to, Where the hand goes, there the eyes should follow. Where the eyes are, the mind should follow. Where the mind is, there the expression should be brought out. Where the expression is, there the flavor will be experienced.
Also, a good rule of thumb to remember, the higher you look the more difficult it is to find your balance. So, look ahead or down if you have to and slowly bring your gaze up when you feel ready.
- Do not lock those joints: It might sound counterintuitive, but this is one of the most important things to remember if you want to protect that knee or that ankle joint. Yes, it will give you more stability but if you lock your joints then you are not using your muscles and that leads to all the pressure equivalent to 4 to 8 times your body weight on that one joint and it is definitely not good for you in the long run. So, it is better to microbend at your knees when in a one-legged position and engage that Quadriceps.
- Take it slow: Never rush in a pose. Especially that requires balancing on one leg. Be aware of all the micro movements, the shifting of the body weight and centre of gravity. Also, from my balance in my headstand I have come to experience that balance is not about absolute statuesque stability, but it is about fine tuning those micro movements which happen as you stay in that pose longer. So, as you slowly enter the pose and experience the right muscles engaging and feeling that one leg getting grounded, focus on them and appreciate the amazing job they are doing at every step you take towards the final pose.
- Breathe: While struggling we often hold our breath. Never do that. Another basic rule of Yoga- keep that breath flowing. Your breath is your “pranic energy”. Also, a steady breath means that you are calm.
Having said all this, I know it is not hard and it is a longish journey to that calm balanced state of asana and mind, but we will reach there. I am still struggling and learning. Hope you can learn from my experience and research and find sisterhood/brotherhood in the fact that there are those of us that are still finding our centre in this process. But, my mantra is if the one legged pose is rocking you, then
ROCK THAT POSE
*A beautiful step by step guide to learn to find your balance that I found helpful: https://www.sensational-yoga-poses.com/balancing-on-one-foot.html#quicklinks