Balance focus

My yoga practice tends to follow a routine. There are four stages to it: warm up, warriors, a focus area that includes some form of prone work, and closing it out with some sitting and supine poses. Sun Salutation A is the warm up I use the most, but there are some other options that I’ll share down the road too. For a full review, click here. Otherwise, here’s a brief review:

Then there’s the warriors again:

With this sequence ending in a mountain pose, it’s easy to get right into the balancing poses. This is for a full balance focus day but these poses can be incorporated into any practice in a different variations. Before we get started, here are a few tips for doing balance poses:

  • Stay close to a wall, just in case but not much closer than arms distances or you’ll be dependent on it
  • A focal point is necessary for balance
  • The focal point is likely to change from pose to pose
  • It’s okay to fall out of the pose, just get back in where you can
  • No one is born good at these, it’s okay to come in and out of them for a while. I’ve been doing yoga for a decade and still have days where I struggle with tree
  • There is no one way to do sequences in yoga. Typically, classes won’t ask students to hold a balance pose for more than one pose at a time before switching and letting the standing leg shake it off. When I’m doing a balance focus, I try to do them all before switching legs.
  • Remember that balance can be found by reaching higher.

The first pose in my balance sequence is tree pose, the most common of the balancing poses. It can be done by shifting weight onto one leg, let’s just say the left one to begin with. Then bring the right foot to rest on the calf or thigh of the left leg. Another option is to bring the right foot up and over to the hip pocket of the left leg. All three are shown below with different arm positions:

In tree pose, the hands can be together in prayer hands or up and out like an actual tree growing. Sometimes I’ll bring my hands up and then together and bring them down before coming out of the pose. It makes it a little longer but it really practices balance when the arms move around some. The gaze also has more than one place, either straight ahead of you or looking up. Either way, a focal point is necessary.

For a beginner, definitely step out of tree and reposition for the next pose. Otherwise, see how it feels to do them all on one side before switching. To come out of tree standing on the left leg, reach for your right foot with your right hand and extend the right foot. I know, it’s not always going to go very far. If you can only extend it a little, that’s fine, don’t force it and don’t sacrifice balance for a straightened leg. The point is to challenge balance. Feel free to use a strap for the foot to work on fully extending the leg.

Bring it back in and either switch sides or flip your wrist and reach for the inside of the foot this time. Once you have a good grip on the inside of the right foot, raise your left arm to steady and hinge at the hips. Pull/extend the right leg so that it attempts at bow shape behind you and try to get your torso as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Again, it challenges balance, so a perfect pose is less important than finding a steady pose. The hand and foot should be pushing against each other, though. This is referred to as either a dancer pose or a standing bow pose, depending on how far over you can get.

The final pose in the sequence is eagle. Eagle has a tendency to be hard on people for an assortment of reasons. Honestly, I’ve practiced in the pool and laying down a lot to get as far in the pose as I am and there’s still a long way to go. Okay, get from dancer to eagle by first bringing the torso up but keeping hold of the foot at first. Let get of the foot and bring the knee forward and cross the right leg over the left, wrapping it around as much as possible. I see fancy pictures all the time that have it so that the foot wraps all the way around and I just can’t do that yet. It’s a victory for me to get the foot close to the standing knee. Bend the standing knee a little, like in chair pose, and wrap the right arm under and around the left arm, wrapping the wrists so that the palms end up touching. The elbows should be no higher than parallel to the floor and are usually close to the chest for the first while. Here’s what it looks like:

It seems atrocious, but there have been so many people who have asked about tight shoulders that I’ve given just eagle arms to do that have come back and told me how much they love it. The combination of arms and legs while balancing is quite the challenge though.

At this point, I’ll slowly unwrap and forward fold before coming back into mountain and shaking it off. Then it’s time to do the next side. I started doing it all in one sequence to challenge myself but they’ve never been easy. I also really like the standing flow of it all but it does tend to feel like a lot of pressure on the standing leg after a while.

From here I usually do a pigeon sequence that looks like this:

Then I’ll close it out with some seated and supine positions.

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