Yoga Student Question: Why can't I Balance??
When I teach balancing postures - Tree pose, Eagle Pose, Warrior 3 - I usually say at some point in the practice "If you fall over, just have a laugh and keep trying - it's just Yoga". In my experience as a Yoga teacher, I see the most frustration and stress around poses that involve balancing on one foot. If people cannot stay balanced, they get very discouraged and stressed and it can effect the rest of their practice as they carry those feelings into the next poses. So, today I wanted to address the question of "why the heck can't I balance on one foot?!" here on the blog. Keep reading to find out some of the reasons you may be so challenged with balance in your Yoga practice, and some tips and tricks to help you during your next Tree Pose. (note: some people who struggle with neurological disorders, vertigo, dizziness, or have suffered any brain trauma may struggle with balance for medical reasons and should always use the aid and support of a wall or chair when practicing balancing poses. Everyone should always listen to their own bodies and only do poses that feel safe and welcome in their body.)
Reason 1: Muscle Strength and Stability
The other day during one of my Your Best Yoga beginner classes (in which I encourage dialogue throughout the class) one of the students asked where she should be feeling the stretch in Warrior 3. Now, we all know that one misconseption about Yoga is that it is JUST about the stretching of muscles, when really it is about strengthening them as well. Balancing postures like Warrior 3 are more about strength than stretch. To be able to balance on one leg, you need to have strong and engaged leg muscles and core muscles. So, if you really struggle with standing on one foot, try strengthing those muscles in different ways - I personally found MUCH better balance in my Warrior 3 after practicing one-legged weighted deadlifts. While you are working on strengthing your muscles you can always practice balancing poses using the wall (back to the wall in tree pose, foot to the wall in Warrior 3 - see tutorial for supported Warrior 3 here).
Reason 2: You are trying too hard
When we exert effort - like A LOT of effort - we generally tense up. You can't balance with rigidity. Notice the difference when you lock out your knee joint in Warrior 3 versus keeping a microbend. When you allow a slight bend into the knee you are also engaging the muscles in the leg more than when the knee is locked out. Locking out the joints brings the engagement into the bones rather than the muscles - and you need to be engaging the muscles to be strong on that one leg! So relax a little, allow the knees to bend some, and stop trying so hard. :)
Reason 3: You are ONLY focusing on lifting the foot
Often when people are practicing Tree Pose they are only focused on lifting the foot. The foot lifting is the LAST thing that needs/should happen in this pose. It is very important for the rest of the body to be in proper alignment before the foot lifts up. You need to make sure the hips are level - because if one hip is higher (usually the hip of the bent and lifted knee) you are going to fall over to that side. You need to make sure the core is engaged for stability, the spine and the sides of the waist are lengthening up, and the shoulders are not up around the ears. Lastly you should keep your gaze soft and down at the floor - not in the mirror or on the teacher - because it's a lot more difficult to balance while watching things that are moving. Once you have taken the time to align the body properly, the foot can lift - and you may just notice it stays there longer than usual!
I hope these tips help you in your next class, but most of all, I hope that you give yourself a break next time you fall out of a balancing pose. It happens, even to the most experienced yogi! If you have a Yoga Student Question you would like adressed, leave a comment below!