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Continuing to challenge yourself to get better in any physical activity requires consistent practice and the mastery of simple skills. One of the most valuable skills to build for yoga is your balance. Balance poses are the foundation of many yoga practices to emphasize overall strength and stability.
For increased balance and improved yoga performance, there are small changes you can implement in your yoga technique and extra exercises you can do to improve your yoga balance poses. This article will provide you with expert tips you can use to enhance your balance and help make it easier for you to move onto more advanced yoga positions.
Find a Single Focal Point for Yoga Balance
If you’ve ever stood on a single leg or been out of balance before, you may have found that focusing on a singular point made it easier. This is because vision and balance are closely connected. After all, your eyes communicate reference points to your brain. In yoga, finding Drishti refers to the focusing of your eyes and energy.
To improve your balance, try focusing on one fixed point while in your balance poses. This is often easiest when looking at a spot in front of you or on the ground. The point should not be too far away so that you do not have to strain your eyes to see. This also allows you to be more in touch with your body and sensations with limited interference from wandering thoughts.
Be sure to keep your head in a natural position, as this is also important in contributing to your balance. The vestibular organs in your inner ear are largely responsible for your ability to balance. So keeping your head straight or in a fixed position will help to make balancing easier as well. Any issues with your vestibular system will negatively impact your ability to balance.
To challenge yourself in your balance poses, take your gaze away from that point to make your muscles work harder. If you find your stability is off at any point during these poses, refocus your eyes back on that one spot to find your Drishti.
Keep Knees Slightly Bent in Poses for Yoga Balance
The knee is an important joint that supports the functions of the ankles and hips, both of which are essential components to balancing within yoga poses. The knee’s primary functions are to bend and extend, which are done in many yoga balance poses. For example, in a standing yoga pose, be sure to slightly bend your knee to build strength, improve balance, and prevent injury.
When the knee is fully extended, it is positioned in the end range, where all weight is placed on the joint. This increased pressure can lead to injury with excessive repetition in these poses. Maintaining a slight knee bend requires the muscles around the knee to work harder and strengthen. This strengthening improves balance in your legs.
The knee bend improves the body’s flexibility by extending the range of motion allowed in the knee and increases strength to improve your balance poses. Muscular strength is a key component in better yoga balance and overall performance. Starting with knee strength for injury prevention provides the added balance benefit.
Here’s how you can adjust your body positioning for the proper knee bend:
- Slowly unlock knees in yoga balance poses: Any changes you make should be slow and smooth to maintain balance and continue to strengthen muscles. These slow movements keep your muscles contracted and firing for muscle development. You will also avoid losing stability with conscious movements. Anytime you find your knees locked in a position, slowly bring them back to a slight bend.
- Proper knee positioning. Pay attention to the placement of your bent knee to your ankle. If you witness your knee bending inward towards your body and not directly in line with your ankle, then your adductors may be tight. Tight adductors are a leading cause of knee pain. Therefore, it is crucial to engage in a sound warm-up, which includes gentle stretches that engage the inner thigh muscles.
On the contrary, if your knee falls outward, away from your body, then it is a result of weakness in the glute muscles. This is your body’s way of compensating for the inadequate muscles being used. Strength training exercises that target the glute muscles, such as side-lying clamshells and squats, are a viable means of counteracting this harmful positioning.
- Exaggerate knee bends for strength training: As you become more comfortable with the slight knee bend, continue to bend for a greater challenge. This will strengthen the knee and make it more challenging to balance in a position with greater contortion.
- Maintain ankle and hip positioning: Even with a knee bend, be aware of your ankles and hips. They should be aligned with each other, regardless of how bent the knee is. It is perfectly okay for the knee to extend beyond the ankle.
Keeping the knee bent will improve stability in balance poses as well as keep you from injuring yourself with an excessive load placed on the knee.
Build Ankle Stability for Improved Yoga Balance
Many balance poses will place a lot of weight on your ankles, requiring them to be strong for optimal performance. Strengthening and mobility are both important for full extension and balance when holding your balance poses. You can strengthen your ankles by doing yoga and supplementing with additional exercises for increased stability.
Ankle stability not only improves success in yoga balance poses but helps to prevent injuries in working muscles in and around the ankle and foot.
Check out these ankle-strengthening exercises for increased balance and mobility:
- Single-leg calf raises: Balancing on one leg, raise onto your toes to contract your calf. Repeat this motion by going up onto your toes and then back down to your heel. This exercise works the muscles in your foot as well as your ankle and tests your balance abilities. If this is too challenging, you can hold onto something for support or repeat the same motion on two feet.
- Alphabet tracing: With your toes, trace the letters of the alphabet to encourage movement and increase your range of motion. The increased mobility will allow your ankle to comfortably shift during different yoga exercises.
- Band exercises: Using exercise bands or similar forms of resistance, place the ball of your foot in the center of the resistance band and flex your foot in various directions against the band to work against the resistance. Be mindful of how your foot returns to the starting position. Do not let the band snap your foot back; control every movement of the repetition.
These repetitions will improve your ankle strength and work the muscles in your lower leg. Make sure that when you perform these exercises, your knee does not move. These repetitions are meant to target the ankles only, so any movement of your knees during these exercises is compensation for the weakness of your ankle muscles. You can also do similar exercises with a hand or gym towel if you do not have bands.
- Open and closed eye balance: You can practice your leg balance by standing on one foot with your eyes open and then closed. You will likely find it challenging to maintain your balance with closed eyes as compared to open. Taking a few minutes each day to try this on both feet will steadily improve your balance.
Other than the band exercises, you can do all of these ankle exercises without equipment. Supplementing your yoga routine with additional exercises will help to reinforce your movements and provide additional support in many balance yoga poses, most notably in standing balance exercises.
Strengthen Core Muscles for Better Yoga Balance
Your abdominal muscles should be engaged in nearly every yoga pose you hold. Yoga balance positions are not only about leg balance, and some of them may require both feet off the ground or reliance on your upper body. No matter which body parts are on the ground, your core must stay engaged to support other limbs and maintain a strong center of gravity.
Many of the yoga balance exercises you perform will require you to engage your core for the best performance. Engaging your core can be a challenge for many, but there are a few ways to ensure you are contracting your abdominal muscles properly during your exercise. Using core muscles during a balance pose improves balance and prevents compensation from other muscle groups.
There are different methods for engaging your core, but the two most successful methods are:
- Keeping your spine in a neutral position while tilting the bottom of your pelvis forward
- Keeping your hands on your waist and practicing pushing your abs into your hands
You can feel your core engaging at the beginning of a laugh or cough, which mimics these movements. Actively using these muscles while in your yoga balance poses will improve your balance further as well as continue to build your core strength. You may find that adding additional core exercises outside of yoga will be an important addition to your routine for better balance results.
Some of the best core strengthening exercises to improve your yoga balance include:
- Plank: Not only does this exercise improve core strength, but it does so through balance. It works all major abdominal muscles and requires you to maintain good body positioning in your legs, back, and shoulders for injury prevention. Keep your hips aligned with your body to avoid added stress to your back. You can also practice on your side for a greater challenge.
- Bird Dog: Similar to the plank, this exercise relies heavily on balance through core activation. Begin by positioning yourself on all fours with hands placed shoulder-width apart and knees placed hip-width apart. To initiate the exercise, you will hold up either your right or left arm, followed by raising the opposite leg of whichever arm you decide to raise. Hold this posture and repeat on the opposite side. Visualize someone placing a glass of water on your lower back. Would you be able to hold this position and not spill it? If not, re-evaluate your positioning to perfect this exercise.
- Mountain Climbers: This exercise is a great way for your body to adapt to changes in positioning while maintaining balance and proper form. This exercise starts by positioning yourself in a high plank position. Begin by driving your knee up toward your elbow and back down to the initial position and then repeating on the opposite leg. Very similar to running in place, you will over-emphasize the knee drive, all while maintaining a straight back. The key to this exercise is sustaining your balance while driving your leg up towards your elbow.
- Bridge: As well as core activation and balance, this exercise can greatly enhance the glute muscles and hip flexors. To start, you will lie on your back with your knees bent, and your feet placed flat on the ground hip-width apart. Drive through your heels and raise your hips, hold the position for 20-30 seconds, rest for 10-20 seconds, and repeat. Make sure to engage your core during the entirety of the exercise. You will feel your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back contracting during this exercise.
All these exercises are dependent on maintaining a straight back, engaging the core, and focusing on proper breathing. A helpful hint for properly performing these exercises is to visualize your body forming a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. This will keep your body properly aligned to activate the right muscles and avoid injuries and strains.
Coordinate Breathing Patterns with Yoga Balance Poses
Breathing is an essential component of yoga that helps to balance you physically as well as mentally. Slow and deep breathing helps to eliminate stress as well as raise bodily awareness. While doing yoga, incorporating deep breathing techniques into your movements can help to extend your range of motion and keep you balanced.
Deep breathing provides a multitude of benefits for your physiological and psychological health that will improve your yoga performance as well:
- Lowered anxiety and stress: Individuals with anxiety tend to take shallow breaths and breathe in their upper chest in short and rapid succession. Longer and deeper breaths help to slow your heart rate and encourage your body to relax. States of calm are linked to a reduced risk of insomnia, depression and improve overall mood and mental state.
- Higher energy levels: With deep breathing, your body can take in more oxygen, which increases blood flow throughout the body. This gives your body more energy to sustain itself during exercise.
- Lowers blood pressure: The combination of relaxation and increased blood flow throughout the body help to lower your blood pressure. This has major connections to your heart health and has been linked to a decreased risk of heart diseases and conditions later in life.
Focusing on your movements and breathing patterns helps to clear other distractions and keep you in tune with your body. Emphasize slow, consistent, and deep breathing to remain calm while in each position as well as the transitions between asanas or poses. Fast and shallow breathing can make you out of sync and lose balance with movements.
With different yoga breathing techniques to practice, consider ujjayi pranayama, which is a common breathing practice used during poses:
- Keep your throat slightly closed: With every inhalation and exhalation, you will want to create a little resistance by keeping your throat constricted. You will notice an ocean-like sound being made, which this breathing technique commonly refers to.
- Take gentle breaths: While working toward deep breathing, you will want to inhale slowly since your breathing is constrained. The goal is to achieve longer breaths without too much effort to prevent gasping for air.
- Practice in simple poses: It is recommended to practice this breathing technique in simple positions that are not too strenuous at first so you can successfully achieve the proper technique. Remember to focus on calm long breaths that make a wave sound rather than a forced exertion.
- Incorporate this breathing technique into balance yoga poses: As you practice this breathing, try to add it to your yoga balance poses. These longer breaths will help to maintain a sense of calm and balance between your body and mental state.
Pranayama is the formal yoga practice of controlling one’s breath, and it can be incorporated into your yoga practice to benefit yoga balance poses. Before beginning a session, consider practicing a pranayama pose while sitting with your back straight. There are multiple deep breathing routines, but they will help you learn to focus your attention on breathing for practice.
Practice Feet Proprioception Exercises for Better Balance
Body awareness is a crucial component of yoga and your ability to balance. This awareness is known as proprioception, and it covers both the recognition of positioning and movements of your body. In yoga balance poses, foot proprioception is vital for improving your stability during and between exercises.
In your balance poses, how you place your feet on the floor makes a large difference. The feet are the foundation of standing poses and should be treated as such.
These are the primary components you should be focusing on regarding foot position:
- Alignment: Keep your toes in a firmly pointed position where the top of your ankle is extended, and your Achilles’s tendons are shortened. This position keeps your feet aligned during most exercises.
- Weight distribution: Ideally, your weight should be evenly distributed throughout each foot. This means the equal weight on the balls of your feet as well as your heels. For additional support, consider widening your toes to place additional pressure on a larger surface area. This will help improve balance with weight more evenly spaced out.
You can also add additional exercises outside of yoga sessions to improve this awareness. The same exercises that were mentioned above to aid in ankle stability also benefit your feet and increase their strength.
Hold Simple Positions for Extended Periods
While working toward more challenging positions and poses will ultimately make you better in yoga balance poses, mastering simple techniques is more important. Before you move onto higher levels of difficulty, make sure you can easily balance and hold simple positions for extended periods.
Holding poses for longer periods will help to build your strength in triggered muscles and will allow for greater improvement. These strong muscles will reinforce your balance and help you to fight through fatigue as you hold them for longer. Not only will your skills improve, but so will your confidence, which will help you move from pose to pose with greater stability and success.
It is recommended to hold these poses for at least 30 seconds, with a goal of holding until your muscles fatigue. Continue this process until these exercises are easy for extended periods and you do not notice any faltering in balance.
Yoga Pose Transitions Should Be Smooth for Balance
One of the most important aspects to remember when improving your yoga balance is the transitions in between poses. You may find it easier to stabilize yourself when holding a position, but the change in movement can easily de-center you and make poses more challenging. The method in which you transition can have a large impact on your success with your poses.
Remembering that yoga is meant to relax and center you, you should take these principles into how you work through each asana. Referring back to your breathing, move from each pose slowly and consciously to avoid any jerking motions that can put you off balance. You are likely going to be off-balance in transitions, so moving slowly will increase your likelihood of success.
When moving between yoga poses, keep these factors in mind:
- Keep a tight core and center of gravity: Your core muscles will be largely responsible for keeping your body balanced in between poses. During a pose and when moving to the next, be conscious in engaging your core and contracting those muscles for increased balance. If you focus your attention on keeping a clear center of gravity, your movements will remain more stable.
- Slow movements: There is no need to rush between exercises, so take your time. Not only will you risk losing your balance, but you could also be increasing your chance of injury. Slowly transitioning into new poses will allow you to push your muscles further for additional flexibility without strain.
One of the primary principles when practicing yoga is to maintain full awareness and control of your body. Practicing this during transitions will not only help improve your form, but it will also help to keep you from wobbling during different balance positions.
Challenge Yourself for Improved Yoga Balance
While it is recommended that you start with mastering simple yoga balance positions, the only way to truly get better is to challenge yourself and test your physical limits. However, you should approach this in levels where you move up in difficulty once you are comfortable with the current pose and can balance easily.
Not only is improvement obtained through repetition in yoga, but many of the tips above advise you to spend additional time on exercises outside of the sport. Strength training and stretching are achieved in yoga but are also helpful when done separately as cross-training for your practice. Adding in extra core, leg, foot, ankle, and shoulder exercises will show improvements over time.
You must manage your expectations for improvement in any physical activity, as progress will take time. Once you get comfortable with an exercise or balance pose, test yourself by increasing the level of difficulty or trying a new variation. With over 84 asanas, you can easily build upon balance poses as you master them.
Improving Yoga Balance Poses: closing thoughts
Yoga balance poses are challenging because they require strength, flexibility, and complete body awareness to maintain stable positioning. Improving your balance requires time spent in the poses as well as extra strengthening exercises to see real results. It is completely okay if you find yourself falling or struggling to keep your balance at first.
You’ll find that more practice and repetitions make these exercises easier, and there will always be new exercises to push you to the next level. Remember to breathe during practice and that your body and mind work together to create the balance you need for smooth and strong pose-holding and moving through your balance asanas.