When a new student begins taking class, one of the most common concerns they share is a lack of balance/coordination. Physical instability can stimulate psychological stress, and fear that a student might look or feel awkward in class. Building confidence to allow yourself to "look weird" or fall over in class, doesn't happen overnight. That battle is fought in the mind (and I desperately want everyone to win this fight!) But, there are basic steps you can control in your body to help you build more confidence in balancing and coordination.
Balance and agility go hand-in-hand with Proprioception, or your body's ability to know where a body part is without looking at it. For most students, the primary mover muscles are plenty strong to hold their body. To encourage balance, it's about taking time to stimulate the smaller, stabilizer muscles to provide control. Balance will help improve your stride and endurance when running, and it will also help you prevent injury. So, let's begin!
Start on a flat surface. I prefer bare feet to stimulate your toes ability to grip and guide weight evenly across your feet. For purposes of these exercises, don't lock your knees. Find softness in your joints.
Find a strong stance on both feet, then align your right foot in front of the left - heel-to-toe. Send your arms long to build balance. When you feel strong here take your gaze to the right and twist to the right. Come back to center. Reverse your gaze to the left and twist left. Your arms should remain at shoulder height as you twist - like an helicopter propeller. After you have done 5 twists, reverse out your feet and repeat.
Reverse step/ Reverse lunge
Begin in a strong stance, balance weight into your left foot. Inhale, left your right foot two inches off the ground. Exhale, stimulate your core muscles and step your right foot back into a shallow lunge. Keep your gaze forward as you make this movement. Ensure that your left knee does come forward past your left toes. Once you've found stability in both legs, send weight back into the left foot again and step the right back up to meet the left. Repeat on the other side. Complete a set of 4 on each side. Gradually, you will begin to work into a full reverse lunge.
One-footed Mountain Pose
Begin in a strong stance. Inhale your arms up to Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Pull your low belly in and lift your right knee up to the height of your hip. Find three distinct 90 degree angles - at your hip joint, knee and ankle. Stay here for 5 breaths. For more stability, bring your hands to your hips. Switch out your sides and repeat on the left. Complete a set of 4 on each side.
One-footed Mountain Pose Twist
Come into your one-footed posture once again. This time, like in the original exercise, send your arms out long. Take your gaze to the right and twist. Hold for 5 breaths. Inhale back to center, switch your feet and reverse to the left. Complete static holds on each side. You can increase the challenge by moving 1 breath to 1 movement, 5 times on each side.
Overtime your wobble will disappear. Go on, give it a try!
One Legged King Pigeon - or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana - is a pose that reminds me of how strong you must be to have an open heart.
In this posture, patiently opening up the hip flexors, shoulders, IT band and chest is critical to coming into the first phases of the posture. However, strengthening the spine to facilitate the front body opening while still supporting the spinal column is where full expression is found.
To begin, warm the body with 4-6 full sun salutations both A & B. Spend a few breaths in both up and down dog. Incorporate core work, focusing on the traverse and low abdominals, and gentle your spine into some easy back-bends like modified anuvittasana with goal-post arms (standing back-bend) and bhujangasana (low cobra). Malasana, garland pose, is another great prep for the hips - bring your feet out wide, then bend into your hips like you're sitting like a frog; keep the feet fully planted on the floor.
When your body is warm, begin in downward facing dog, sweep the right leg straight back, with hips squared (3-legged down dog). Then, guide the right knee to the right wrist and lay the right shin across the mat. Balancing weight between both hips, guide the pelvis to the floor and extend the left leg straight back. To find flexibility in the IT band, stay upright in this position and work towards squaring your right shin to the front of the mat. This may mean that your right hip will lift off the floor to remain balanced in the hips. That's ok; even your weight through your palms, and use a block or rolled towel as a prop to support the right hip.
When your IT band feels open and you are ready to move on, begin in the same down dog position. This time when bringing the knee forward to the wrist, keep the foot tucked into the groin, creating an acute angle in the right leg (Yogi Tip: try a pointed toe to protect the knee joint in acute angles, and a flexed toe in right angles.)
From a narrow angle right leg position, and bend the left leg at the knee and support your body between both hips and your left hand for balance. Extend up with your heart and begin to bend back, guiding your right hand to the left foot. It may not touch. You can use a strap around your left foot to encourage the connection. When you can comfortably bring the foot towards the foreheard, begin to ease the left hand away from the floor and up to the foot. In full expression, both hands have grasped the foot and there is a connection between the sole of the foot and the crown of the head.
Words of caution: if at any and point a twingy, painful feeling enters your spine, knees or hips, back off. This is a posture that increases flexibility in the cervical spine. Often students, especially women, come into it too quickly, relying on the flexibility of their hips and low spine. However, without properly strengthening the upper back and your core, you may be leaving your low spine vulnerable to injury.
Be strong. Open your heart!
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