Practicing vinyasa yoga with a yoga teacher is an ongoing art. Going deeper into practice is a goal for the novice to professional practitioner. Sometimes a single subtle adjustment creates the movement where the body connects to hither-unknown points in space where the mind can relax. It is a state of being.
Physical Balance in Yoga
Balance relies on an inner focus and outer stance. Balancing on one foot requires a shift of weight while maintaining the same focus. Examining how the balance is lost can correct losing balance. If standing in tree pose on the left leg and falling to the right, the hips may be uneven. If falling toward the standing leg, the balance has yet to be achieved. If falling backward, the hips, pelvis and shoulders are out of alignment.
Tree Pose and Balance, The Role of the Non-Supporting Leg
Draw the right leg up and place the foot manually against the inner left thigh somewhere above the knee. Check the loss of balance direction. Keep the eyes forward without pushing the chin up or forward or stretching the neck. Allow the arms to counter leg wobbling by either holding them straight as if on a balance beam or placing on hips.
The raised leg with bent knee can help hold the pose. The knee must be lateral to the standing pose, not forward. The knee should point to the side as a counter balance to the standing leg. It should also try to point downward. This causes the thigh to be perpendicular to the standing leg and creates balance. Breathe deeply for five breaths. Practice on other leg. One side is always more balanced than the other but an advanced practitioner should be evenly balanced. A beginner should be kind to the self and recognize this imbalance. Be mindful of strengths and balances and go from that point onward.
Balance and Shoulder Movement
Tension during poses is natural at first. Yoga is movement with breath. It is flow. When the shoulders are raised there is tension in the torso. Relaxing this tension by stretching the neck looks effective but creates more tension across the trapezius muscles. Instead, inhale and with the exhalation drop the shoulders not just down but back. Feel the shoulder girdle move toward each other as if they mean to touch. Attempt to shrink the space between the scapulas. Take five deep breaths and hold.
Warrior Posture Transition and Flow
Warrior positions glide from arms up and facing forward to arms open and facing the opposite side. The hip stance is open. The hips try and accompany the upper body in the position shift. The pose is holding the hips open in both positions. With the flow, mindfully drop the back hip of the back leg. Feel it relax with the breath and drop down instead of strain to hold the pelvic area in what seems square. It will feel as if the pelvic bones are uneven until the movement becomes natural, but at the same time it will feel as if the ground platform is stronger, because it is.
Perfecting the balance and the pose doesn’t mean being in the perfect position. It is being in the desired harmonic state of mind, body and balance so that breathing is at last, effortless.
Yoga Exercises to Maintain Balance
The statistics for broken bones and serious injuries after the age of 70 are astounding. A large proportion of disabilities occur as the result of broken hips and legs, injuries that may have been prevented by better balance. The truth is that unless the muscles that help us balance are used, they begin to deteriorate starting in our late teens. In most cases this is not a serious problem during the early adult years but it does become a significant issue during the senior years.
The good news is that even if the ability to balance declines over time, it is possible to regain an average level of strength and stability through exercise. The practice of Yoga has many benefits for flexibility, strength training and relaxation techniques. For people unfamiliar with the poses, it may seem intimidating to roll out a mat and bend in various contortions in a studio. Although all Yoga poses are beneficial, the basic balance poses can be performed at home.
These poses are simple in structure but surprisingly may take time to perfect. The important thing to remember is to start slowly and be consistent. Small initial progress will grow into full capability with practice and patience.
This is the simplest pose in Yoga and is generally a starting point for any routine. The Mountain Pose may not seem to affect balance but it ensures basic posture and develops focus for the more difficult poses:
Stand erect with feet slightly touching. Arms should be straight at the sides and the focus should be at a horizontal level. Maintain this pose for at least one minute with regulated deep breathing.
The beginning Tree Pose starts with one foot resting on the other leg with the toes pointed down. Advanced tree poses raise the foot to a higher level eventually reaching the upper thigh.
There are several variations of the Dancer’s Pose that starts with one leg extended backwards while standing on the other foot. Advanced poses include bending forward to a horizontal position, leaning completely forward to touch the floor or leaning while holding one foot. This more difficult pose takes practice to achieve a forward bending balance.
One Leg Balance
Balancing on one leg can take place with the opposite foot extended or by holding the foot behind. As balance ability increases, the extended leg can be lifted to hip level.
Practicing Yoga has many benefits to all age groups. These poses only require a few minutes a day but ability increases with repetition. They can be performed at home, in the park, on a break or just standing in line while we’re waiting at the airport. Wherever the time allows, the balance poses if practiced on a regular basis improve our ability to protect ourselves as we age.
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