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The Importance of Balance in Yoga

20 April 2013

Many beginning student/practitioners of yoga find it hard to maintain balance while practicing. Yoga asana is especially good for challenging our balance because we must hold poses still while supporting our own body weight. This forces us to use all the body’s available balancing mechanisms to stay upright and steady.

The technical name for our sense of balance is called “Equilibrioception” and it involves five components or processes, making it more complicated than most people imagine. We all seem to take it for granted. Consider the following summary of the numerous body functions and mechanisms that must work in harmony for us to keep our balance:

  • 1. Your Inner Ear – The inner ear is part of your body’s and is also known as the vestibular system. Movement of fluid in the inner ear tells the brain where the head is located in relation to the rest of the body. It also communicates the speed of movement related to the head – e.g.; when our head is moving up and down or left to right.
  • 2. Your Eyesight – The body uses vision as an anchor for determining where you are in relation to the rest of the world. Through our eyes’ visual recognition we are able to sense where we are in relation to other objects, plus whether or not we are moving, and if so, how fast.
  • 3. Your Central Nervous System (CNS) – The Central Nervous System consists of the spinal cord and the brain. It connects all areas of the body to the brain via a system of nerves. The central nervous system is responsible for almost everything we do; from something as simple as breathing to something complex, like solving a math problem. This system can be thought of as the “command center” of the body because all movement and systems are regulated via the CNS. The CNS is then connected to the rest of the body including muscles, organs and glands. In order for balance to be maintained, a healthy and functioning CNS is imperative.
  • 4. Your Breath & Breathing – In order for the body to stay balanced it must “centered” and have attained to certain level of relaxation. Deep breathing and relaxed diaphragm muscles will help the body relax, become more centered and that helps maintain balance.
  • 5. Your Muscles – In order to establish and maintain balance your muscles must be strong enough to support our body weight. It is also important that the body does not favor or use one set of muscles over another set. For example, if the lower back muscles are stronger than the abdominal muscles, one may have a tendency to lean back more than necessary while standing. This can negatively affect both posture and balance.

4 Helpful Tips for Improving Balance While Practicing Yoga…

  • 1. Remain in Conscious Control of Your Breathing – As I mentioned above, one of the easiest, quickest ways to lose your balance is by tensing up your body and taking short, shallow breaths. While holding a pose be sure to keep the breathing long, light and steady plus keep the body relaxed, especially the diaphragm region.
  • 2. Focus Your Eyes On a Point – Before attempting to assume a balancing asana, find a stationary spot in the room to fix your eyes to. For example, a poster on a wall, a knob on a door or a cup on the floor. Whatever it is, fix your eyes there and steady yourself first before entering fully into the pose. As you slowly raise your body into the pose, keep staring at that same point. This orients your body giving it a visual anchor, which greatly improves balance while practicing.
  • 3. Concentrate on the Area Demanding the Most Strength – Whenever anyone comes into a pose requiring balance, there will likely be one specific area of the body’s musculature that is most taxed in order to maintain an upright stance. Using the tree pose for example, the area most taxed will be the ankle and leg of the standing foot. While remaining in this pose, focus your attention to the ankle and leg. Feel each tiny muscle, nerve and reflex working constantly to keep you upright and balanced. Feel all the minute adjustments that must be made every millisecond you remain in thi pose. Keep your mind focused on this area but relax (see #4)…
  • 4. Don’t Try To Hard – This may sound counter-productive, especially if you are focusing your attention to the area most taxed. Nonetheless, the fastest way to topple or fall is by trying too hard to stay upright. The key here is to relax and to trust your body. Your practice will show you what you need to do to stay balanced in the pose. Trust in the process.

3 Easy Yoga Poses to Help With Improving Balance…

  • The Importance of Balance in Yoga

    Tree Pose

    1. Tree Pose (Vrksasana) – If you are not able to bring your leg all the way up, try resting the bottom of the foot against the inside of the standing leg. You can either place the foot by the shin, or up higher where the leg meets the body. Do not place the foot on the side of the knee.

    The Importance of Balance in Yoga

    Side Plank

  • 2. Modified Side Plank (Vasisthasana) – If this pose needs to be modified, you can bring the bottom knee down to rest the leg on the floor. Bend the knee of the bottom leg and bring the foot behind the body at a 90 degree angle.
  • 3. Eagle Pose (Garudasana) – To modify, do not wrap the lifted foot around the standing leg. If the shoulder stretch is too deep, you may cross the wrists over each other and place the hands in such a way that the back of the hands touch each other.

 

A strong sense of balance promotes stillness in yoga poses, as well as stillness in your mind. As your balance improves you’ll also notice the strengthening of your your muscles and improved flexibility and overall muscular control, as well as a greater body awareness. Once the mat’s rolled up and you leave your studio you’ll notice increased balance and improved posture, making simple tasks (like walking in heels). Practice these balancing poses and you’ll feel more balanced physically as well as mentally.

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