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How to Overcome Common Challenges in Yoga Balances

A woman practising dancer's pose (nataranjasana)
Yoga balances, such as tree pose or warrior III, help strengthen the muscles that support stability and improve proprioception, allowing individuals to maintain better control over their bodies and reduce the likelihood of accidents.

Practicing yoga balances during midlife offers a multitude of physical and mental benefits that can greatly enhance one's overall well-being. As we age, our sense of balance tends to deteriorate, leading to an increased risk of falls and injuries. Yoga balances, such as tree pose or warrior III, help strengthen the muscles that support stability and improve proprioception, allowing individuals to maintain better control over their bodies and reduce the likelihood of accidents. Moreover, these poses require focused concentration and mindfulness, which can sharpen cognitive function and relieve stress, both of which become increasingly important in managing the demands and challenges of midlife. By incorporating balance exercises into their yoga practice, individuals can not only safeguard their physical health but also cultivate a sense of poise and inner harmony that can be profoundly transformative during this stage of life. But often we struggle, and I'm here to provide you with some tips to help you benefit from yoga balances.

Doing yoga balance poses is like giving your bones a workout to keep them strong and protect against osteoporosis. These poses, where you stand on one leg or do upside-down positions, put just the right amount of pressure on your bones. This pressure tells your bones to get stronger by adding more bone material. Also, practicing good posture in yoga helps prevent spine fractures, which are common in osteoporosis. When you keep doing these poses regularly, it is like giving your bones a regular workout, keeping them strong and reducing the chances of getting osteoporosis as you get older.

As we get older, the risk of falling and breaking bones becomes a serious concern. Osteoporosis, a condition where your bones become weak and fragile, is a common culprit. In the UK, millions of people are affected by osteoporosis, with statistics showing that over 3 million people are diagnosed with the condition. Sadly, a significant number of them suffer fractures, often from simple falls that would not be a big deal for someone with healthy bones. These fractures can have a major impact on their lives, leading to pain, limited mobility, and even loss of independence. It is a stark reminder of how important it is to take care of our bone health as we age, through exercise, diet, and regular check-ups, to reduce the risk of fractures and maintain a good quality of life.

However, often I get asked by my yogis, how they can improve their balances. Here are some tips that I suggest.

Standing in vrksasana (tree pose) while talking on the phone.
Try practising yoga balances outside of the class. Maybe try tree pose while you're brushing your teeth or standing on the tube.

Practice Off the Mat: Try to incorporate balance training into your daily life, like standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or waiting in line. Hold the balance for at least 30 seconds. This help build bone strength.

Start with Basics: Begin with fundamental balancing poses like Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to build a strong foundation. Often, I see people dismiss Mountain pose as they think it is too easy. In fact, it is a lot harder than it seems, if done properly. Take your time in Tadasana. Spend time here with the eyes closed. Feel the sensations in the feet as you adjust. Notice where your weight is in the feet. Focus on the alignment here. Notice what happens when you roll the shoulders back, press the soles of the feet into the floor, or even spread your toes. Tadasana is the foundation for all of the balance poses so it shouldn’t be glanced over in practise.

Balances are just as much about focussing the mind as they are about the physical strength. So, try to close the mind off from unnecessary chatter whilst in your balance. Instead, count the breath, or find a Drishti point (this is a point at which we focus our gaze).

A woman holding on to a column while practising a standing balance pose in yoga.
Use props, such as walls and chairs to help you with your balances.

Modify the balance: For example, in Tree pose- keep the toe of the elevated leg on the floor, with only the heel resting on the side of the lower leg. Or try using a chair or wall to help. Start with the hand at first, and as your balance progresses, just keep the finger-tips on the wall. In my yoga classes, I always give an alternative that works the balance in just the same way as the standard balance. In all the options that I offer, you will still be strengthening the bones and the muscles in your legs, regardless of how you get there. Yoga poses don’t have to look all the same way. So, if you find yourself wobbling or struggling, ask your teacher for another option.

If you fall out of the pose, don’t berate yourself. This just unsettles the mind (see above). Often, I see people try to get straight back into a balance from where they left off, and get frustrated because they can’t. Balances are like playing Super Mario Brothers on the Old Nintendo…you have to start right at the beginning again. Go back to the start. Start with your foundation. If you feel off that day, stay in Mountain pose with the eyes closed instead, settling your mind.

Finally, walk around barefoot more often. I can see my husband cringing at this suggestion. I am a barefoot walker. I love the way my feet feel free in sliders and flip flops, or the feeling of the earth on the soles of my feet (except for when it’s extremely hot sand!) But most importantly, walking barefoot has strengthened the muscles, tendons and ligaments in my feet over time. Studies have shown that walking barefoot can also help reduce the likelihood of plantar fasciitis and shin splints. In addition to these benefits, you will find you have better control of your foot’s position and a greater awareness of the proprioceptors in the feet, which is integral to your awareness in balances.

So, the next time you think you can’t balance, just try some of these tips, and remember you’ll benefit from the practise in the long run.

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