“Fall down seven times; stand up eight.” Japanese Proverb
Balance is one of the 5 core Yoga 15 skills. In yoga, we train balance with one-legged standing poses, arm balances and advanced twists. Typically we hold these poses for 2-3 breaths and sequence them together in dynamic flows. Working on balance improves proprioception, body control, agility and concentration.
BENEFITS OF PRACTICING YOGA FOR BALANCE
- Improves balance and proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space).
- Increases body control and accuracy of movement.
- Allows us to activate the deep muscles that integrate different parts of the body to work together.
- Enhances coordination.
- Increases body awareness.
- Strengthens the feet, ankles, knees, legs and hips.
- Stabilises the core.
- Improves posture.
- Reduces your risk of injury.
- Builds determination and perseverance.
- Enhances focus and concentration.
- Quiets and sharpens the mind.
- Morning or Pre-Workout—to activate neuromuscular pathways and focus the mind.
- Essential for all athletes.
DO YOU NEED TO TRAIN YOGA FOR BALANCE?
Good balance is particularly beneficial in sports that demand a high degree of agility, coordination and technical ability. But actually, it’s a win for all athletes. From a physical point of view, one-legged standing poses are great for building strength in the feet, ankles, hips and core. Arm balances build upper body strength, especially in the shoulders and wrists. And twists, simultaneously, train balance, coordination and flexibility.
From a neurological point of view, balance training is great for improving body awareness, body control and coordination. This allows for greater precision, accuracy and efficiency of movement. It also enhances focus and concentration. Furthermore, balance poses and sequences are fun and challenging, which keeps you engaged in your training.
ADVANTAGES OF TRAINING YOGA FOR BALANCE
- Yoga offers great variety and complexity of movement to your balance training.
- In yoga, we practice static balancing poses. We also flow through balance sequences that are, arguably, more applicable to excellence in sports.
- Practicing barefoot enhances the effectiveness of the mechanoreceptors in your feet. These mechanoreceptors pick up subtle sensations as your balance shifts. This makes your movements more accurate and precise.
- In yoga, we practice drishti or ‘focused gaze’ in balance poses. Use of the drishti, much like the breath, enhances concentration and focus.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF BALANCE YOGA POSES
There are 3 ways that we can train balance in yoga.
- One-legged balancing poses, like Tree and Warrior 3, also build stability in the ankles, knees, hips and core.
- Arm balances, including Side Plank and Crow, also strengthen the core and upper body.
- Twists, including Revolved Side Angle and Revolved Half Moon, also improve flexibility and coordination.
YOGA BALANCE TRAINING AND THE BRAIN
Balancing sequences, not only train physical skills, including strength, proprioception and agility. They also have significant neurological benefits. Balance training:
- Strengthens networks in the brain that control mental efficiency. It improves concentration, focus and alertness.
- Enhances coordination, body control and agility by speeding up neuromuscular communication.
- Improves the ability of the muscles to react quickly and precisely.
- Improves the integration of sensorimotor control from visual, proprioceptive, vestibular and motor inputs.
- Demands full concentration and the dropping of extraneous thoughts, which quiets the mind.
- Requires determination and perseverance, which builds mental resilience.
- Increases your confidence to try more difficult poses and take on new challenges.
REFINE YOUR APPROACH
“If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” Aaliyah
- As you stand in Mountain pose, distribute your weight evenly between the base of your big toe, the base of your little toe and the centre of your heel. Try to avoid pronating (rolling in) or supinating (rolling out). Tune into the sensations in your feet and establish a stable foundation.
- Fix your gaze (drishti) on a point that isn’t moving to help you keep your balance. Try to put aside distracting thoughts and bring your full attention to the sequence.
- Don’t forget to breathe! This might be a sign that you’re trying too hard or holding on too tight. Relax your breath and find steadiness in your pose.
- Aim for stillness in the static poses and smooth, fluid transitions between postures. Try to make it look easy and graceful—moving smoothly with as little tension as possible.
- Observe the subtle micro-adjustments that you make, unconsciously, to maintain your balance. This will enhance your body awareness.
- Don’t be discouraged if you fall over—just recover your balance and try to get back into the pose. Balance is a complex skill that requires consistent practice.
- Even if you struggle with some of the poses initially, I encourage you to keep practicing them until you achieve mastery. Then you can challenge yourself to try harder and more complicated sequences.
- Next level: try practicing some of the poses and sequences with your eyes closed.
WHO SHOULD DO THE YOGA FOR BALANCE SEQUENCES?
All athletes should incorporate balance training into their schedule. These routines will keep your sessions interesting and varied. I recommend that you practice at least one yoga for balance sequence each week.