Is standing on one foot a challenge for you? Do you want to laugh when an instructor tells you to kick your foot over your head or wrap your legs like twist ties?
Every yogi struggles with balance sometimes, but it’s not some magical thing that you stumble into and then hold your breath so the spell won’t be broken. Balance primarily comes from strength — specifically, the strength of the secondary muscles around your primary muscles. Most movements — and workouts — utilize the large primary muscles, and traditional exercises reinforce this. So when the small stabilizing muscles that knit everything together are called upon to keep you steady, they fall down on the job — and so do you.
Classes that strengthen the small stabilizing muscles are the best place to start improving your balance. The following can also be helpful:
What are you standing on? Soft surfaces like carpet or overly-cushy yoga mats can make balancing difficult. An ideal surface for balance is hard and flat, with an optional mat for grip.
Barefoot is best for balance. Shoes of any kind make it difficult to anchor your weight in the appropriate parts of your foot.
Notice your foot placement. In balancing postures, your foot should be directly in line with you knee and pointing directly forward. (Depending on your foot’s unique shape, this could mean your big toe or your second toe pointing straight ahead.) Then spread your toes to increase the size of your base.
Different postures call for different weight distribution in the feet, but balancing postures typically shift the weight slightly forward into the big toe and ball of the foot, while still keeping the heel firmly planted.
The body often follows the eye gaze. In a stationary posture, keep your gaze focused and soft (drishti) can help still and solidify your body. Eye gaze can also help in dynamic balancing postures; in revolving Half Moon, for example, a steadily rotating gaze can guide the body into the movement.
“A tight body is a light body.” The more of your muscles you can get involved, the easier balancing is. In opposing postures like Standing Bow, make sure the amount of energy expended forward is matched by the amount of energy extended back. Try engaging your whole body in a posture where you normally depend on one anchor point to carry you and see how much easier it becomes.
Fight the temptation to hold your breath. As with any kind of exercise, oxygen-starved muscles will fatigue and collapse. Breathe evenly and steadily and visualize your muscles being rejuvenated with each inhale. The combination of cleansing breath and mental focus makes balancing much simpler.
If you find yourself becoming dependent on any of these balancing aids or simply want to take your practice to a new level, you can challenge yourself by taking one away—practicing by dim light, for example, or on wet sand. But always use common sense, of course—stiletto heels might not be a wise choice.