Balance is the ability to move, or remain in the same position, without falling over. Good balance requires a high level of proprioception, which is the sense of knowing where your body is in space without having to look. In your muscles, joints and tendons there are sensors called proprioceptors that are constantly measuring levels of tension, pressure and contraction. This information travels up the spinal cord to your brain, which calculates where each of your body parts needs to be in space.
The best way to improve your proprioception – as with building strength, increasing flexibility or mastering a skill – is to challenge it, and yoga balancing poses are the perfect training ground. One-legged poses especially educate your body to sense where it is in space so that you can react quickly and unconsciously to regain your balance when you lose your center of gravity.
Great surfers are able to focus on what the wave is doing, who and what is around them, and where their board is rather than just the position of their feet and alignment on the board. Once you catch a wave, it’s impossible to predict exactly what it will do next. You need to dynamically respond moment to moment to the demands of the wave and feel as though the board is an extension of your body. Here are four balancing poses that will train your body for that.
One-Legged Side Plank
From the plank position, shift your weight onto your right hand, rest on the outside of your right foot and come into side plank. Lift your left hand up to the sky and reach up through your fingertips. Stay here or for more of a challenge, lift your top leg and flex your foot. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
This pose also strengthens the hands, arms, shoulders, obliques, abs and legs.
From mountain, bend your knees, cross your right leg over the left and wrap your right foot behind your left calf – your left knee should point straight ahead. Stretch your arms out to the sides, cross your right arm over the left, bend your elbows, wrap your forearms and try to bring your palms together. Lift your elbows, point your fingers and drop your hips. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
This pose also stretches the knees, outer hips, upper back, shoulders, arms and wrists and strengthens the feet, ankles, legs and core.
Again from mountain, tip forward from the hips, lifting your left foot back behind you to hip height. Press back through your left heel and point your toes down. Lengthen both legs without locking your standing knee. Try to bring your arms back beside you and reach through your fingertips. Fix your gaze on a point that isn’t moving to help keep your balance. Stay here for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
This pose also strengthens the feet, ankles, legs, hips, back, shoulders, arms and neck.
Squat down with the balls of your feet pressed together, your knees out wide and the palms of your hands on the mat, shoulder-width apart. Lower your upper body between your knees and press your upper arms against your shins. Come up to the balls of your feet, spread your fingers wide and press into your palms. Squeeze your knees firmly against your upper arms, lift your hips and lean forward so that your weight shifts from your feet onto your hands. Keep moving forward until your feet begin to lift off the mat.
If you are new to the pose, start by lifting one foot and then the other. Then try both together. Hold the pose for 5 breaths.
This pose also strengthens the core, lower back, upper back, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands.