In class, my students request to work on balance poses all the time. They can be so accessible, but so challenging at the same time. There really is a balance pose for everyone. Here are my Top 5 Tips:
1. Find the place in your pose that works. If you’re in Warrior 3 for example, it doesn’t matter if your back foot is two inches off the floor or at hip height. Your standing leg is getting just as much work no matter how high your other leg is! In tree pose, it doesn’t matter whether your other foot is at a kickstand or your thigh – your standing leg is doing the work either way!
2. Don't let ONLY your standing leg do the work. The other big takeaway for balance poses is to engage the rest of your body. In Warrior 3 for example, I remind students to engage the OTHER THREE LIMBS just as much. Reach the arms, press the flying foot back in space. In Long Cat pose, the more you stretch the hand and heel long, the easier the pose gets.
3. Dynamic tension – Imagine you’re in a tree pose and starting to feel shaky. Your body is craving to reach to a nearby wall or step down. With your hands at heart center from tree pose, instead try pressing the hands together. So instead of having to reach for the wall, you’re just reaching to steady yourself with your opposite hand. Same goes with your foot – press your lifted foot against your standing leg for balance, rather than the floor. Your leg pushes back into your foot in the same way. (Note here, ensure your foot is not pressed against the inside of your knee!). Eagle Pose works the same way – hot dug bun-style, you engage everything in toward center. Your left side supports your right and vice versa. It’s a beautiful lesson in finding what you need in what you already have.
4. Forget you’re in a balance pose. Really! Take a moment to mindfully set your body the way you want it, and then focus on your breath instead. When I do laundry, I can hold a tree pose while I’m switching a load from the washer to the dryer for the whole time. Because I’ve stopped worrying about falling out. That’s my biggest tip for balance poses. When we’re so focused on that constant narrative of “omg I'm going to fall,” you fall. When you stop fearing falling out, you stop getting close to falling.
5. Work smarter, not harder. Yes, you need to engage in balance poses. But what absolutely will not help you is forcing it. If you’re holding your breath, sweating, grunting, etc., let it go. Take a step down, regroup, shake it out. Step back in, and this time start from the ground up. Maybe today’s Ardha Chandrasana doesn’t need to have your hand on the ground. Today’s crow definitely doesn’t need you to shake and grunt. Asteya is the yoga ethical principle that means nonstealing. Forsaking your breath and focus to reach for a pose is how you steal in yoga.
In everything here, it’s really about letting go of the attachment to the end result. When we do that, and let go of what we WANT the pose to be, instead we get to play with what the pose really IS.