Balance postures have the value of strengthening the body, improving its structural integration, developing mental stability and focusing attention. Balance postures are organized into two classes, the first are leg balances and the second are arm balances. For example, Crow pose (see picture) is arm balance (not easy! but so good for your self esteem when you get it!). Leg balances strengthen the feet, legs and hips, and also help us refine the way we hold and move our body weight. Arm balances emphasize strengthening the muscles of the arms, shoulders, back, abdomen and pelvis. All balance postures give us a sense of increased mastery over our body and boost our self confidence. When we accomplish a balance pose, we feel focused, good about ourselves and possibly realize our potential as Yogis in both the areas of the mind and the body.
In balance postures the base our body is situated on is normally small and relatively unstable. The larger the base our body is balanced on, the more stable we become. The key to achieving balance postures is the ability to achieve equilibrium on an unstable base, using the displaced body weight as a counter balance. If we have tight ligaments or muscles it will be difficult to move the body weight sufficiently to create the counterbalancing effect necessary to maintain the posture. However, if we have loose ligaments and muscles it will be difficult to stabilize the joints where the body weight is transferred. Through study and practice of an asana sequence that addresses these particular issues in the Viniyoga tradition we can develop strength and flexibility where needed in order to maintain a balance posture.
It is very important to note that the breath plays an important role in balance postures. The breath will help us make the subtle adjustments necessary to achieve balance. Also, the eyes are very important in balance postures. We need to focus our eyes on a immobile spot in front of us and this will help us maintain equilibrium and focus. Focusing our eyes will also help our minds stay free from distractions.
Balance postures can have the components of forward bending, backward bending, twisting, lateral bending, extension and inversion. For example Tadasana is a classic extension posture, but when we add back bending, twisting or lateral bending, we displace our weight and then we are in a balance posture. These postures are great for strengthening the legs and feet.
In leg balances we need to watch out for lateral or backward displacement of the hips, collapsing the chest, twisting of the torso, excessive rotation of the supporting leg, jutting the chin forward or collapsing the head backward. In arm balances we need to watch out for collapsing the chest over the belly, ears toward the shoulders, sinking the pelvis into the arms, increasing the lumbar curve in inverted back bend balances.
There are significant risks to the joints in balances. In standing postures strain could come from trying to get the balance and contracting excessively in the neck and shoulders in order to achieve the balance. Also, in standing balance there is risk to strain in the low back and stress in the hips, knees, ankles and sacroiliac joints. In arm balances there is significant risk to the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and upper back. These risks can be minimized by adequate preparation for the postures and avoiding any force.
Try out some balances in your practice and feel the strengthening mental focus qualities of these beneficial postures!
Love and Light,