Fitness Magazine

Techniques for Improving Balance

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

Techniques for Improving Balance

Shawn Brow Age 57

For those of you who are new to yoga—and to balance poses—we’re recommending a few basic techniques and principles to get you started. To safely explore balancing poses you have never done before, start out by practicing the versions that use props or a wall for support before moving on to the classic pose. If you’re fearful, you can practice any pose with your back to a wall that you can lean back onto if you feel yourself losing balance. For those of you who have already mastered the basic balancing poses, if you want to keep improving your balance, it’s necessary to keep challenging yourself. So our list of techniques include several recommendations for you that will allow you keep progressing in your ability to balance for years to come! Whatever your current level is, you should practice poses that challenge your balance with a non-judgmental attitude, as negative self-talk can sabotage you. As you start to practice, notice your thoughts. If they tend to be negative, such as “I suck at Tree pose,” try consciously taking a more neutral approach, such as, “Let’s see what I can do today…” And keep in mind that even if you fall (safely, of course!), you are still benefitting tremendously by practicing your balancing poses, so practicing is your real aim, not staying upright! How Often to Practice. Since you typically only practice a few balance poses in an active practice, it’s a good idea to include one or more balance poses in every active practice that you do. However, too avoid injuries from overuse, make sure you vary which balance poses you practice. For example, if you’re working on Tree pose, do that only every other time and try a version of Warrior 3 on alternate days. How Long to Hold the Poses. Hold your balance poses until you notice your leg or whichever body part is supporting you is quivering, and then try to hold 2-3 seconds longer. Rest a few seconds before repeating on the second side. If you are only able to do 10 to 30-second holds, rest briefly after complete both sides, and repeat the pose a second time. Over time gradually work your way up to holds of 1 to 2 minutes. Balance Your Practice. For improving balance, it’s important to practice a wide variety of balance poses as well as strength, flexibility, and agility poses. So be sure to practice a wide variety of poses throughout the week and month rather than just doing poses every day. Besides the standing balance poses, we recommend practicing yoga balancing poses where you balance on other parts of your body. Try Side Plank pose variations to work on hands and the sides of your feet. Try Boat pose variations to work on your buttocks area. Try Hunting Dog pose to work on your shins as well as your hands. And to keep your mind fully engaged and avoid relying on your body memory of practicing your poses in the past, vary the order in which you do your poses as well. Mindfulness. Because maintaining awareness while you balance—rather that just throwing yourself into a balance pose and hoping for the best—is what will help you improve, you should mainly practice poses that are accessible enough so you can practice them mindfully. As you practice, focus on your sensations of being on and off balance and making whatever subtle adjustments are necessary to steady yourself. As you make progress with the accessible poses, you can gradually add in a few more challenging poses or variations. And to develop your proprioception, take time to really feel your own alignment in every single pose that you do. Are you arms even in Warrior 2? Are you knees actually straight in your standing poses? Is your head really aligned directly over your torso? Then take your proprioception to another level by working with more subtle alignment cues. For example, you could work with your shoulder blades, your collarbones, your inner thighs, or something even more esoteric like your psoas muscles. Sometimes there is an area you are not used to even sensing and, at first, it will be hard to feel something there. But the more you bring your mind to it, the easier it will be to sense that area and eventually to move it. Mental Focus. Practicing balance poses trains your mind as you return your focus again and again to maintaining balance. You notice shifting sensations—the feeling of being on or off balance—and when extraneous thoughts take you away from your movements. However, if you are having trouble focusing, you can meditate and practice structured breath practices (see Chapter x) to improve your mental focus in general, benefitting your balance both inside and outside the yoga room. Challenging Yourself. It’s important to continue to challenge your balance and keep moving to the edge of stability where you almost—or do the first few times—lose your balance. You can do this by varying: the poses you do, how you use your vision, the type of surface you balance on, and the amount of distraction that’s in your environment. 
  1. Varying Poses. After starting with basic static poses and dynamic sequences, add more challenging poses and practices. From there, search out new poses or variations, make up new versions of existing balance poses, or even invent your own balance poses. Some guidelines: 1) After you master simple poses, progress to more complex poses or sequences of poses. This adds new variables for your mind and body, from simple to complex. Try more advanced balancing poses that you learn about in a an intermediate/advanced yoga classes. Or, after learning two balance poses independently, such as Tree pose and Warrior 3 pose, you could create a dynamic sequence that combines the two. 2) After you master familiar poses, progress to inventing new versions of them that challenge your balance. For example, you could modify Tree pose by shifting your hip toward your standing leg and tipping your torso and arms to your lifted leg side. 3) After you master static balance poses, progress to dynamic balance poses, such as dynamic Warrior 3 pose, to challenge yourself with balance in motion. 
  2. Removing or Changing Vision. After you’re comfortable in a balance pose with eyes open, you can take vision out of the equation. This helps improve both proprioception and exteroception as you have to rely on your internal sense of where you are in space to balance, as well as your vestibular system. Try practicing in a darkened room or with your eyes completely closed. You can also change your vision by keeping your eyes open but changing the position of your head, by looking up or looking down, and by turning your head. 
  3. Vary the Surface You Balance On. Once you are comfortable balancing on a stable surface, such as wood floor or a thin yoga mat, gradually move on to more and more unstable surfaces. Some possibilities include a rug or carpet, a foam mat, a foam block, and even a firm mattress. If it’s possible to practice yoga outside, try some poses on the grass or sand. We also recommend practicing on an uneven surface, such as with half your foot on your mat and the other half directly on the floor. 
  4.  Changing Your Environment. When you’re ready for real-world challenges, you can try practicing in a distracting environment, such as at a park or at the beach. You can also create a distracting environment in your yoga room by practicing with a talkative yoga friend or let some children or pets “help” you practice. You can also add “cognitive distraction drills” to your practice by chanting or even tossing a small ball or bean bag around while you also balance. 
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