How to Build An Ashtanga Practice

Session 19 - The Principles of Balancing

Balancing poses in yoga help to bring balance to your physical, energetic, emotional and mental aspects of your being. In turn, cultivating balance helps to pacify and still the mind and helps you develop self-assurance - physically and mentally. 

Balance is not easy nor is it permanent.  As a teacher, I have heard many students complain about balances and pretty much condemn themselves as “bad at balancing.”  Our attitude about balancing is important. The inner dialog can have a negative influence on our ability to stay in the flux and find some stability and flexibility.  What we do with that dialog influences our ability to balance. If we can observe our reactions calmly, staying with the breath and working toward our center, we can cultivate balance, but if we swing to the outer demands of wobble and quitting, then we cannot balance. When we follow the principles of balance, we stand a better chance at finding a means and a method of finding our center. When we practice balancing on our mats, we have a better chance at balancing off our mats when opposing forces pull at us creating shift and change.

Everything in yoga starts in how we are seated/rooted. Every pose contains the template of Tadasana. So let’s start there. It is the first balance of the practice.  As the practice progresses, balance is challenged in the Standing part of the series when we get into the one legged poses - Uttita Hasta Padangustasana and the Standing 1/2 Lotus.  Balancing on one foot as opposed to two is challenging.  You may, in fact, need to use something to help support you in these poses as you are learning to balance in them.  I think it’s wise to have a chair or a wall nearby just in case.  

Using Support

When we use a prop to help us balance, it simply marks where we are today and that the end game is finding stability and flexibility in the right mix to feel steady and strong and at ease. It is perfectly acceptable, but make sure you are using supports that allow you to develop the strength and flexibility and not give the pose to the wall or the chair.  If you use the wall, use the wall minimally. If supporting your spine, don’t lean your whole body into the wall. If using the chair, see if you can find equanimity between you and the chair.

Here are my suggestions for balance support in each of the Standing Balance poses.

Uttita Hasta Padangustasana

  • Stand near the wall and with hands on hips, reach the elbow tips back to lightly touch the wall. You can reach your free arm out at shoulder height and lightly touch the tip of your pinkie to the wall.

  • Stand sideways at the wall (the standing support leg closest to the wall) and the hand closest to the wall on the wall.

  • Use lower lever lengths, meaning instead of reaching for your big toe, hold your thigh and concentrate on building strength, balance and stability in the Tadasana of the balance.

  • Use something to support your leg as you stretch it forward - stacked blocks or a chair in the forward and side positions.

  • Use a belt ONLY if you can maintain the Tadasana of the pose and not put all the power into the belt.

 

Standing Half Lotus

  • Stand near the wall and with hands on hips, reach the elbow tips back to lightly touch the wall. You can reach your free arm out at shoulder height and lightly touch the tip of your pinkie to the wall. Don’t put your butt on the wall! If you practice forward folding in this pose, you will knock yourself to the ground on your face.

  • Stand sideways at the wall (the standing support leg closest to the wall) and the hand closest to the wall on the wall.

  • Practice Tree Pose as a preparation for this pose -  especially if your hips are tight or injured.  Be sure your hips and knees agree before taking this pose any further. Once you feel good in Tree, then practice only the standing half lotus until your hips feel good and then add in the forward folding.

 

Principles of Balance

  • Find Tadasana in the pose as you establish the base of the pose and gather your body and energy in and up through the center channel of the body. Feel the depth of your feet rooting. 

  • Maintain a steady, deep breath with continued attention to gathering and lifting to stay connected to your center.

  • Maintain a steady gaze at a fixed point to calm and steady your mind. Use this gaze to serve you in the pose - forward and down for stability and rooting; ahead for equanimity and up for expansion and transcendence..


  • Practice being open to the entire experience in a cultivation of equanimity.  Not being excited or reacting to the pleasant, unpleasant or neutral experience. Not grasping, fighting or getting lost in thought.  Feel your whole self in the pose. Feel yourself as part of the whole space you occupy and not something separate.

 

The best way to get good at balancing, is to practice. Practice tadasana wherever you can. Practice standing on one leg whenever you can. Practice the principles of balance especially when you find yourself being pulled by opposing energies in life off your yoga mat.

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