“In art and dream may you proceed with abandon.
In life may you proceed with balance and stealth.”
. ~ Patti Smith
There are a great variety of balance poses in yoga. From balancing on one foot, to balancing on the crown of the skull. In deed, all of the poses require some level of balance to perform them successfully. In the interests of brevity and function, my focus here will be on how to use yoga to improve the standing balance we use in our everyday activities.
How can yoga help with physical balance?
There are many ways yoga can help to improve your physical balance abilities, including:
- increasing strength and flexibility in the muscles and joints directly related to balance
- challenging and developing the three inner balance senses: vision, vestibular and proprioception
- practice of both static and dynamic balance poses
- specifically strengthening the balance muscles and sensors in the feet and ankles
Increasing strength & flexibility
Maintaining stability in standing balance poses requires the harmonious coordination of several different muscle groups. Major groups involved are the hip muscles: the outer hip muscles (abductors), the gluteus muscles (buttocks), the inner thigh muscles (adductors). Along with the shin and calf muscles, and the core muscles.
The outer hips
Of particular importance are the gluteus medius and minimus muscles. Located on the outer hips, these muscles act like retaining walls for the outer pelvis and legs when we walk, run and balance. If these muscles become weak it can cause the hips to sway too much from side to side when we’re walking. This leads to greater wear and tear on the hip and lower back joints, as well as impacts our ability to stay balanced.
“Open” standing yoga poses like Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana 2, Vrksasana and Ardha Chandrasana are particularly helpful for strengthening the outer hips.
Larger than life
The very act of practicing balance poses places far higher demands on each of the above muscle groups than you would need for basic balance activities such as standing or walking. In many cases yoga poses are “larger than life,” creating much larger spacial footprints than our usual postures. We don’t use the majority of the actual asana positions in our daily lives (and we might look a bit silly if we tried!). But, because of the expansive way the poses challenge our strength and flexibility, they in turn enhance our overall stability.
Of course, alignment in balance postures is key. Practicing Vrksasana (see right) without a thought to how the outer hips are toning for example, will not help your balance abilities anywhere near as much as practicing with intelligent, aware alignment while actively engaging the outer hips on both sides. When we consciously focus on which muscles need to do what in each of the poses, it strengthens the neuromuscular connections between the brain and the body, further sharpening the body’s subconscious responses when we’re out and about in our daily lives.
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
For more yoga articles, updates, classes and workshops, sign up for my newsletter at the top of the page or like on Facebook at Ann West :: Iyengar Yoga. You can contact me directly by email or call (858) 224-2484.
© 2017 by Ann West. All rights reserved.