Yoga and Balance

Yoga and Balance
Life and aging bring many challenges, the ongoing ability to move skillfully being one of them. Many injuries can be prevented if we work on improving our sense of balance while at rest and in motion. Fortunately, those of us who practice asana regularly are constantly working with our bodies in different positions and through different series of movements. Thus, our balance improves even when learning the simplest of poses.

Strength and flexibility are important, but so is proprioception, the ability to navigate spatially. This concept encompasses a number of physical abilities, such as agility, kinesthetic intelligence, coordination, and range of movement. When we improve our proprioception, our bodies learn to adjust to the demands of particular exercises; this is in part what we mean when we think of getting ‘fitter.’ Whether we are training for a marathon or to be able to sprint to catch the bus, we need to navigate our terrain and its changing conditions – weather conditions, night or day, the presence of other people – with grace and comfort.

Enter asana, which, when learned with a focus on good alignment, helps us to better understand our bodies. When we realize that Virabhadrasana, or Warrior I, is at the same time an extension, a backbend, and a balance, we see that our bodies perform a number of different movements during its execution. In doing so, we interact with the environment and improve our response.

To be sure, this is true for all exercise, yoga or otherwise, but asana’s focus on uniting the body, the breath, and the mind mean that we become aware of our proprioception in novel ways. Making sure that our shoulder bones are firmly set into their sockets, or checking that our knees aren’t jutting out over our toes makes us think about how we move in space. With repeated practice, our muscle memories incorporate these lessons in our daily movements. Proprioception is indeed a transferable skill, and yogi/nis, like ballet dancers, are generally more agile and coordinated than other athletes.

In addition, yoga offers specific asanas that specifically work on balance. When we first learn these, we try to use our strength to force ourselves into the postures. However, we quickly learn that there’s more than strength at play here. Consider Vrksasana, or Tree Pose. Yes, the pose involves balancing on one leg. In order to do that, however, we work on our posture, and so prep with Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. We may find that the strength of the front muscles are out of balance with the strength of the leg’s back muscles, and so utilize one or more of the Warriors to address this. We also need to stretch the sides of our body, and so find Trikonasana, or Triangle, to be of benefit. Beyond these considerations, we also learn to focus our attention on one point, or drishti, in order to master the pose. All of these elements – strength, posture, evenness, stretch, and focus – are elements of balance, and yoga teaches us how to integrate each into our movements.

In short, yoga helps improve balance primarily through its focus on union: we unite our mind’s intelligence with our knowledge of how our body works in order to advance. In doing so, we are better able to regain our equilibrium the next time we stumble on uneven terrain – or the next time we stagger amidst a jagged emotion. In doing so, yoga truly helps us to live better, both on and off the mat.

You Should Also Read:
Tadasana, Or Mountain Pose
Trikonasana, or Triangle Pose

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