“Balance is the state of the present – the here and now.
If you balance in the present you are living in eternity.”
. ~ BKS Iyengar
Center of gravity
All objects have a center of gravity (CoG) – a hypothetical point in the body where weight is thought to be concentrated. The CoG also marks the focal point from where an object is pulled towards the earth by gravity.
The position of an object’s CoG depends upon its shape and how it’s moving. For example, in stationary, standing humans our CoG is located deep inside the abdomen. However, when we change our position our CoG also changes (see diagram right). Sometimes it’s even located outside of the body.
Base of support
Our base of support (BoS) is whatever is supporting us on the earth. For example, our two feet when standing, our buttocks and feet when sitting, or our hands in a handstand.
Center of support
We also have a center of support (CoS). That’s the point at the center of our BoS. In regualr standing, that would be the midpoint between our two feet. We’re in balance when we’re able to maintain our CoG over our CoS. This is an important idea to remember when practicing any balance poses.
Lowering the center of gravity
One other interesting note on our CoG. Bringing it it closer to the ground makes it more stable and taking further away makes it less stable. This means that it’s somewhat more difficult for a taller person or object to balance than a shorter one.
You can use this principle in standing balances by bending your standing leg knee in the pose, thus bringing the whole pose closer to the earth and making it more stable. A down side is that the bent leg takes more muscular and mental energy to maintain, which may pull you out of the pose sooner.
Walking as falling
When our CoG moves too far out of alignment with our CoS, we begin to fall. That’s essentially what’s happening when we walk. We’re leaning our body into a continual falling forward position, with the fall ultimately prevented by stepping another foot in front. This falling, along with muscular mechanics in the legs, propels us forward into walking (see picture right).
Mindful of gravity
Being mindful of where our CoG is in space and keeping it above our CoS plays a crucial roll maintaining our balance in yoga poses. For example, in Vrskasana (tree pose), when the bent leg lifts up and turns out to the side, our CoG shifts along with it. Our job is to return the CoG back over its center of support, the standing leg foot. Then balance is regained.
Try it for yourself
Stand in Tadasana. Imagine a plumb line running through your CoG to your CoS between your BoS (your two feet). This is your balance point. Next, begin to sway gently side to side and front to back. See if you can sense each time you pass through your balance point. Gradually minimize the movment, making it small and smaller, until you come to rest in the balance point again. If you’re well aligned you will find the physically easy and mentally quiet balance point of the pose.
When you’re in perfect balance, the pose becomes more effortless because your muscles aren’t having to work so hard to keep you there. It’s like finding a sweet spot, which allows you to stay for far longer with less effort and more calm than you might have be able to otherwise.
Trace a line
Take a look at the photo (right) of the three courageous gentleman balancing on the edge of a skyscraper. See if you can visually trace the line between the center of gravity in their daring three-man pose and its center of support.
More yoga for healthy balance articles:
- Strength & flexibility needed for balance
- Center of gravity
- The three inner balance sensors
- Static vs. dynamic balance
- Feet & ankles for balance
- Brain gains from balance
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