Whether in the metaphorical or physical sense, achieving balance in life is something we all strive for…
In yoga class, we may define good balance as the ability to perform tricky poses (headstands, handstands, forearm stands, etc.), but the real purpose of learning to balance goes far beyond the physical postures we practice on our mats.
In fact, those physical postures are really just a gateway to help us connect to ourselves and our lives on a deeper, more spiritual level. Yoga isn’t about mastering each and every pose, but rather about recognizing that every difficult pose you encounter in class is much like every difficult situation you face outside of the studio. The pose itself may be painful, uncomfortable, tricky or unstable, but your body is somehow capable of getting through it — and therefore, so are you.
Yoga teaches us what it means to balance, not by holding a handstand (although doing so is certainly an added perk), but through teaching us to push beyond our comfort zones while also listening to our body and respecting its limits. Balance is not achieved overnight, but rather over the course of time. As we mature in life, and in our yoga practice, we learn what feels good to our bodies and what doesn’t: when to back out of a pose, and when to keep pushing; when to be a “strong warrior,” and when to be a “happy baby.” And that, my friends, is the true meaning of balance.
Keeping in mind that mastering a pose is not nearly as important as what you learn while attempting to do so. Here are five yoga poses to practice to help improve your balance — both on and off your mat.
1. Downward facing dog
From mountain pose (standing straight up, feet hip-width apart), reach your hands down to the floor, bending your knees if need be. Walk your hands out about 3-4 feet in front of your toes. Pushing into your palms, lift your hips up toward the sky and press back into your heels, pressing them flat into the ground. Keep your gaze toward your legs and continue pressing your chest toward your thighs to create a nice flat back.
2. Dolphin pose
From downward facing dog, lower your forearms to the ground and let your head drop further back in between your shoulders. Continue to push your chest towards the tops of your thighs and reach your heels towards the ground, trying to get your feet as flat on the ground as possible. This pose helps prepare and position you for headstand and forearm stand.
3. Warrior III
From a high lunge position, keep your arms lifted overhead as you shift your weight forward, launching off your front leg and raising your back leg straight out behind you. Balancing on your front leg, flex your back toes down towards the ground and try to create one straight line with your body from your fingertips to your head, back and toes, allowing your gaze to remain on the floor, a few inches in front of your supporting foot.
4. Crow pose
Come into squat pose (malasana) with your feet about as wide as your mat, letting your hips sink toward the floor, hands in prayer position at your heart. From squat pose, plant your palms flat on the ground so that your wrists are directly in line under your shoulders. Bend your arms slightly and squeeze your knees in firmly around your elbows or upper arms. Rock your weight forward into your hands, coming up high on your tippy-toes. Pressing firmly into your hands, lift your feet off the ground, allowing your knees to rest on the backs of your upper arms and your body to hover over the ground.
5. Boat pose
Sitting on the floor with your knees bent, feet planted on the ground, press your palms into your mat a little behind your hips, keeping your fingertips pointing towards your feet.
From here, bend at your elbows and press into your hands as you raise your feet off the ground. Keeping a nice, straight back as you lift through your chest, reach your arms out in front of you towards your feet.
Either stay here, holding with bent knees, or for more of a challenge, extended your legs straight up to the sky, allowing your arms to reach up overhead as well. You may also choose to grab a hold of your big toes with your index and middle fingers, bending the elbows and pulling your chest in closer to your legs.