You’re an athlete. You sweat nearly every day and would be the first person to confidently step up to a pushup challenge. You practice yoga regularly and even know your Sanskrit-to-English posture translations. You’re a fantastic student, a sponge to learning, except for one tiny detail: You can’t balance for your life. The teacher asks you to stand on one foot, and it’s domino central. Doesn’t matter if your foot is hovering a few centimeters above the ground or you’re attempting a Tree Pose—you feel like you possess the grace of Big Foot.
You are totally not alone. You can be a fantastic student of yoga and feel like a fish out of water when balance poses are offered. Let’s check out a few reasons why this might be happening and what we can do to remedy it.
Reason #1: Muscular Instability
“What?! But I’m so strong! Did I mention the pushup challenge??” Hey—I totally hear you, but people can be wicked strong and not fully understand how to engage specific muscles to encourage balance.
For example, stand up and take a moment to notice how you stand naturally. There’s a strong chance that you’re popping out one hip and leaning the majority of your weight into one foot/side of the body. This is a natural occurrence, but also what tends to knock us over when we try to balance. If you lift one foot without muscular awareness, the odds are your weight will buckle in the standing leg and hip. Your gluteus medius and TFL “tensor fascia latae” are the muscles that need firming in your outer hip to prevent you from collapsing. This isn’t a natural engagement, so you need to start to fire these bad boys up!
Focus on firming your outer standing hip in when you do single leg balances (e.g., Tree Pose, Warrior III, Extended Big Toe Pose). This action will stabilize your standing leg and give you the power to balance!
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Reason #2: You’re Locked Out
Following in the shoes of muscular stability, don’t lock your standing leg! It may seem like a good idea to get your base leg as straight as possible, but when you lock it straight, you’re no longer engaging your muscles—you’re putting bone on bone. It’s better to put a tiny bend in your standing leg to support the action of balance. Keep your standing quadriceps engaged (it will feel like you’re lifting the kneecap up) as you continue to firm the outer standing hip in.
Reason #3: You’re Rushing
Balance doesn’t translate to stillness—it’s making peace with the constant fluctuations of the body. When you see someone balancing peacefully in a Tree Pose, it doesn’t mean they’ve reached the enlightened version of the pose where they could execute the posture while napping. It means they’ve become aware of all the movement within their body and mind, and that they know how to dance the dance instead of giving up every time their body alters. Focus on your standing foot; notice all four corners of your foot pressing evenly into the ground. Feel the dance your toes do to help you stay stable. Draw energy up your standing leg (perhaps with that slight bend; remember: no locking). Find the time to engage your core (draw your lower belly up and knit your ribs to the midline). All of these small, sweet actions built together create balance.
Remember: Some days are easier than others. Maybe you are running on minimal sleep and are dehydrated—all of these factors add up. Don’t be hard on yourself. Just do your best, stay committed, and move on.
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Reason #4: You’re Not Breathing
It’s only the most natural of occurrences, and yet it’s the first thing to go when we’re grasping for something difficult. Wavering balance tends to make us hold our breath. Keep yours flowing evenly and easily in and out of your nose. This will encourage your parasympathetic system—meaning you can stay calm and relaxed.
And One Last Tip: Gaze is so important. Here’s a general rule of thumb: The higher you look, the more challenge you’ll experience. If you’re constantly wavering with balance, I encourage you to look slightly forward and down. Keeping your gaze at the ground will give you an additional sense of being grounded. The next level is having a neutral gaze, while looking up will stimulate the most challenge.
Find your roots, start slow, breathe, and keep your muscular awareness. You’ve got this!
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