In Working your Balance!, I discussed the importance of practicing poses that support your sense of balance. Balance is so important as we age, to help prevent injuries from falls! To develop your balance, there are two more important points to consider and tools you can use to increase your sense of balance.
First, drishti, in sanskrit, is your gaze! I’ve mentioned that before. When we think of gaze, we think of line of sight; when working to improve your balance, it’s important to maintain your drishti on a still point in the distance. But drishti can also be thought of as your ‘focus’. Hmmm, same thing, right? Well, yes and no. In yoga, it is always important to have a focus, and that focus is internal. It is what keeps you in the present moment, the only moment that matters. Your breath can help you to maintain that internal focus. (Baptiste, 2016)
When working your balance in yoga, it helps to focus externally—on that still point—which will assist you in steadying your internal focus. By engaging your Ujjayi breath, Breath of Victory, you also give yourself an additional point to hone your focus, the sound of your breath.
To discover your Ujjayi breath, make a slight constriction at the back of your throat so that as you inhale and exhale (through your nose); your breath becomes audible, sounding like beautiful ocean waves as they roll in from the sea! Ujjayi breath creates an internal tapas or heating of the body, which helps to build energy for any practice, but can really assist in holding balance poses. Creating both an external and internal point of focus, or drishti, will support you in developing your balance.
Second, is to develop firm feet. How? Sit in a chair with a tall spine (don’t slouch). Stretch both feet out and point your toes strongly, notice that your calf and Achilles tendon are short and compressed. The ankle, is stretched. Now, push out on your heel and pull the toes back. You will feel the Achilles and calf lengthen, and the muscles and tendons at the front of the shin and ankle are shortened.
When your foot is well-balanced, neither the front nor the back should feel compressed or stretched! You are looking for that middle point as the optimum position. Practice this before you start your daily yoga practice as it takes time to learn the feel of that middle ground.
Another part of firm feet has to do with pronation and supination. A foot supinates when the inner foot (including the arch), lifts up and the lateral (outer) foot is heavy. Pronation is the opposite: the arch droops, and the outer foot lifts. A typical non-weight bearing foot tends to supinate. In a foot balance pose, we need to actively pronate our feet. When working on a balance pose, such as Tree, Vrkasana, press out through the base of the big toe and inner heel Then visualize and feel that you are sending energy out through your leg to the four corners of your standing foot, and then sending energy out even beyond those four corners. (Gudmestad, 2019) You are truly growing the roots to your tree!
I can’t say enough about how important it is to maintain the ability to balance. I also, can’t say enough about how the practice of yoga, steadies the mind, and encourages the ability of balance.
How do you practice balance?
Baptiste, Baron. 2016. Perfectly Imperfect. Hay House. California
Gudmestad, Julie. Feb. 5 2019. How to Firm Feet for Balance Poses. Yoga Journal. https://www.yogajournal.com/teach/neat-feet. Accessed May 16, 2019.