For women especially, balancing poses are part of the yoga ‘fountain of youth’ – they strengthen the muscles that help prevent falls that can lead to hip fractures and other disasters. Balancing poses also strengthen one’s proprioception, or ability to move with stability, as they involve positioning the body, holding the pose, and then coming out of the asana. Precisely because of the number of muscles and abilities involved, these poses can be quite challenging. Using props can make the difference between an asana that is feared and avoided, and one that is challenging yet doable.
A wall can be quite useful. When moving in and out of Ardha Chandrasana, or Half Moon, for example, practicing next to a wall gives the yogi/ni the ability to break the pose down by skills and work on the basics first. This pose requires the body to use two different lines of energy, a chest opening, and a balance – that’s a lot to tackle all at once! When working with the wall, the practitioner can focus on the arm and leg extensions (which require a strong standing leg as well as a stretch in the other three limbs) and then the chest opening first. In this way, the balance will come on its own, from the integration of the other movements and the body’s ability to sense where everything is in space. Another prop that is helpful in this pose is a block for the bottom hand to rest on while the body adjusts to the spatial change in posture.
Using the above reasoning, the use of these props for Virabhadrasana, or Warrior III, can be magical. One can move into the pose either by bending forward and using the wall to position the long line of the body, or one can bend past the balance point and use the block to push back into the asana. In this way, one can work on the length of the body and the strength of the standing leg first, and then on the proprioception needed for balance later on.
Another way to use the wall in Vira III is to practice the posture with the torso in Mountain Pose. In other words, stand leg distance away from the wall and come into Mountain before lifting the leg and resting the toes on the wall at a right angle. When the lower body is steady, lift the arms up and over the head and stretch the entire body. The pose is being done from a different angle, which allows the practitioner to focus on the stretch of the torso rather than the strength of the standing leg.
A wall is also useful for working with Vrksasana, or Tree Pose. This asana involves a hip opening and specific alignment of the legs as well as a stretch throughout the entire body. Practicing against the wall gives feedback as to whether or not the pelvis is moving out of alignment when the leg is lifted; if the rear moves against the wall, that’s a cue to lower the foot and keep the hips open. The stretch of the upper torso and arms then grows out of the position of the legs, and balance again happens once the legs are strong enough to support the posture.
These three poses are complex in terms of what they require the body to do. Breaking them down and working on different parts is a different way to strengthen one’s body and practice; the use of props gives greater control over both muscle and movement. Try using these props and see how they can help to strengthen the asanas.