Flexibility and strength improve the longer we do yoga; however, balance is often more fickle. One practice you have it, the next you’re inexplicably timbering out of every vrkasana (tree pose) you attempt.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to center your body and mind on those days when balancing doesn’t come easy. As a bonus, slowly easing into standing balances, like vrkasana, step-by-step will help you develop balance in the long run.
1. Find the right mat.
There’s a downside to luxuriously thick yoga mats and towels – it’s harder to balance on them. If you’re having trouble doing a standing balance on a thick mat, step off it before you attempt the pose.
2. Start with both feet on the ground.
Firmly plant the “four corners” of your feet – the spot right below your big toe, the spot right below your little toe, your inner heel, and your outer heel – onto your mat with equal weight. Okay, so they aren’t exactly the “corners” – just go with it.
3. Spread your toes.
If you can’t splay them without a little help, bend down and use your hand to separate your toes gently onto the mat. You want a wide base of your support leg before you lift up. Keep your toes relaxed. If they’re gripping the mat, your weight is too far forward. If they lift off the mat, your weight is too far backward.
4. Lift with one leg, press with the other.
Press down into the big toe corner of your base foot as you lift the opposite leg. There is a tendency to put more weight on the outer corners of your support foot than on the inner corners, which will throw you off balance.
5. It’s all about hips.
A tall, spacious, and centered vrkasana or garudasana (eagle pose) comes from aligning the hips. Square your hips to the front of your mat by consciously pressing back the hip of your lifted leg until it’s even with your other hip.
6. Find your drishti.
Fix your gaze on a stable point slightly above eye level. This is your drishti or gaze point. Choose something close, so you don’t strain your eyes looking at it. You have other things to worry about besides sore eyes. You’re standing like a flamingo for goodness’ sake. Relax your eye muscles and soften your gaze.
7. Look straight ahead.
Hold your drishti instead of looking around the studio. It will help center your concentration and, ultimately, keep you on point. Our inner ears regulate our bodies’ balance, so moving your head around can also throw off your natural equilibrium.
In yoga, in life, always. Beginners often hold their breath when a pose gets difficult. It makes things easier in the moment, but it makes it harder to build strength, flexibility, and balance over time. Plus, it’s not so easy to balance when you finally come up gasping for air. Keep your breath calm and steady.
The importance of balance in poses like vrkasana and garudasana is obvious. You are literally standing on one leg. Balance is, however, also the secret to flow. Throughout your practice, good balance gets you from one pose to the next with grace. Use the steps above to bring poise to all your poses.
Once you master vrkasana, try your hand at Lord of the Dance pose.