Yoga is most definitely one of the best ways to find and to maintain a state of beautiful balance in your life, balance in body, mind and spirit. It helps us to stay present in the moment, to stay grounded, to connect with our bodies, and to find a balance between effort and ease.
Every single yoga practice and every type of pose helps us to do this. But to take it a little further, yoga offers some particular poses that can challenge your balance while strengthening your body. I find that standing poses (such as Tree Pose or Half Moon Pose) are challenging enough but accessible for most, especially with practice (these are “intermediate” poses). Arm balances (such as Hurdler’s Pose or Crow Pose) are more advanced and particularly challenging, they’re not for everyone, but they can be fun to practice and to work towards.
I invite you to challenge yourself by adding any of the following standing balancing poses to your practice. It’s a question of strength, alignment and balance (this is the EFFORT). And try to find space for EASE at the same time (softness in your face, in your hands, in your breathing for example). It’s also a question of confidence, which comes from practice and playful perseverance. If you fall out, it’s no problem! Simply refocus and start again.
TIPS: Make sure you practice each of these poses on both sides, to adjust any posture imbalances. To keep your balance, find a point to focus your eyes on the horizon, on the wall or the floor.
Challenging yourself is the pathway to growth, in yoga and in all things.
TREE POSE (Vriksasana)
- Starting in Mountain Pose, slowly shift your weight over to your left foot. Imagine strong roots reaching down into the earth from all four corners for your foot. Engage your core muscles.
- Bring your right foot up to tiptoes and externally rotate your right hip, opening your knee out to the right. Bring the sole of your right foot to press against the inside edge of your standing leg at a comfortable height (ankle, shin or upper thigh). Hug the muscles of your legs to the bones. Feel you are rooted to the earth. Here is where the core muscles help.
- Bring your hands to press together at heart centre. When you’re ready, reach your hands to the sky. Just notice how you feel balancing on one leg, reaching confidently for the sky. And if you fall out of the pose, just try again!
- Stay for 5-10 breaths, then mindfully release back to Mountain Pose and observe any difference in sensations from right to left.
- Practice Tree Pose on the opposite leg.
WARRIOR III (Virabhadrasana lll)
- There are various ways to move into Warrior lll pose, often coming in from Warrior 1 or a high lunge. I invite you to try this way, which really will push your balance boundaries.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose, with your feet hip width apart and firmly rooted into the mat. Reach your arms to the sky. Transfer your weight to your right foot. As you move into the pose, try to keep the left hip parallel with the right.
- Start to fold at the hip, so that your left leg moves back as your straight upper body moves towards the floor. Like a pendulum. Keep your core engaged, your standing leg strong, and your hips square. Fold so that your upper body and left leg are parallel to the floor, or as close to parallel as is comfortable. Prioritize stability and alignment, and don’t worry about how far you fold.
- Don’t worry if your legs are straight. You may prefer to have your hands on hips or out to the sides. Just play, and balance, and wobble to your heart’s delight. Confidence is about finding what works for you, and also about exploring your limits. So just fly!
- Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths then mindfully come back to Mountain Pose.
- Be sure to repeat the pose on the opposite side.
HALF MOON POSE (Ardha Chandrasana)
- This pose is a little more challenging than the first two, and I find it requires some good gluteus medius and minimus strength on your standing leg. You may need to build some strength there to be able to do this pose. It’s a good full-body strengthening pose.
- I’ve found that an easy way to practice Half Moon if you’re not used to it is with your back to a wall. Also, using a sturdy yoga block will make this pose so much more accessible. So have a block on the floor within easy reach.
- Stand with your back to a wall and make your way into in Triangle Pose on your right side (right leg forward).
- Place your left hand on your left hip, then bend your right knee as you place your right hand on a block placed next to the wall.
- Straighten your front leg and lift your back leg off the floor until it is extended and is aligned with your shoulders (so your left side is one straight line). Try to do both at the same time.
- Raise your left hand straight up to the sky, extending your reach and opening up your heart centre. Look up if it feels comfortable.
- Keeping your back against the wall, will help you to externally rotate your body and keep both hips aligned, one on top of the other.
- Try and hold this pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Come back down to Triangle Pose and repeat on the opposite side.
- Once you feel comfortable doing Half Moon Pose against the wall, challenge yourself again and try it away from the wall.
DANCER POSE (Natarajasana)
- Also called Lord of the Dance Pose, this is a beautiful pose to try but quite challenging. It requires strength, balance and a fairly intense back bend and flexibility in the shoulders. So this is a pose to work towards.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose, with your feet hip width apart and firmly rooted into the mat. Place your hand on your right hip and transfer your weight to your right foot, pressing it into the floor.
- Bring your left foot up and take it with your left hand, ideally holding the instep but you can hold it on the outside if that feels more comfortable.
- To counterbalance, you can raise your right hand above your head.
- At this point, your knees should be together, your pelvis tucked under just a bit to find length in your torso.
- Begin to tilt forwards from the pelvis keeping your spine straight.
- Then press your left foot into your left hand - this will create an extension in your spine, a gentle curve. Press as much as is comfortable, while keeping the pelvis level and maintaining your balance.
- Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
- Release your foot and come back to Mountain Pose. Repeat on the opposite side.
EXTENDED HAND TO BIG TOE POSE (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
- Once you feel comfortable with Tree Pose, this is a nicely challenging next step. Have a yoga strap at hand, it can make this pose easier.
- Starting in Mountain Pose, with your hands on your hips, slowly shift your weight over to your right foot. Engage your core muscles.
- Raise your left knee and reach to take a hold of your left big toe with your left hand. If you can’t easily reach your toe, wrap a yoga strap around the sole of your foot or place your foot into the loop of the strap.
- Extend your left leg, either to the left side or out front, holding onto your toe or onto the strap. It’s important to keep your spine straight and avoid hunching your back. You want to be standing tall with your chest open.
- You can now extend your right arm out to the side or overhead. This will help with balance.
- Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths.
- When you are ready, bring your extended leg back to centre and lower it down to the floor.
- Repeat the pose on the opposite side.