Yoga increases strength, improves flexibility, and improves balance, right? These are the three main physical benefits of yoga when people discuss why yoga is good for the body. After a five-year hiatus from daily yoga practice, I got back into my old routine and have been practicing two to three times a week now since December of 2012 (it’s been 8 months). I wanted all of those aforementioned things back that I had once gained from practicing regularly (the serene peace of mind was another attraction).
I was surprised at how quickly I regained my strength! In less than a month, I could actually see my shoulder and arm muscles had become bigger. It was kind of shocking. Better flexibility and increased range of motion came back fast, too. Muscle memory is an amazing thing, and within weeks I was back to reaching way past my feet. So here I am, eight months later, wondering to myself why my balance has not improved. It has not improved at all. I can bend into crow pose, firefly pose, and put both legs behind my head, but I cannot for the life of me do a simple tree pose or even balance on one leg. The lack of improvement is kind of depressing, actually. What in the world am I doing wrong?
After doing a little bit of research, here’s a list I put together for reasons why my balance has been slow to improve and why yours might be a little bit off, too:
• Outside influence: Diet, stress levels, and preoccupation with outside issues may throw off your balance and lead to an “off” day. I know my “off” days usually fall in a particularly stressful week, or when I am scheduled to do something right after class.
• Attention span: I like to multi-task. I’m good at it. I am overstimulated and overcaffeinated and might be a little bit ADD. I am downplaying, I get distracted very easily in any environment -- even a serene yoga studio. I’ve been recently studying the yoga practice of Drishti, or focused concentration. Actively focusing your attention away from where the eyes naturally gaze toward and onto a focus point can greatly enhance balance, especially in standing asanas.
• Class size: If you are actively gazing into a focal point, or bahya, but are in the back of a packed yoga studio, the energy of the tottering yogis all around you and in your range of vision can easily throw you off your game. My favorite classes, it seems, are everyone else’s too and most classes I attend have been almost mat-to-mat. My balance is better when I practice at home (although, if no one is there to see it, does it count?).
• Yoga style: Vinyasa flow, power yoga, and hot yoga: those are my three favorites. They are also the fastest-paced forms of yoga. I took two Hatha classes this week -- completely out of the norm for me. And because everything was slowed down, I was able to focus a lot more on the acute aspects of my practice. Mostly, where to place my foot and how to root into the ground and shift my entire body weight through my foot: toe to inner arch to outer arch and then to the heel. When I concentrated on the root of the pose, I found my posture and balance improved significantly though the asana. Slower yoga styles give you enough time to concentrate on one pose long enough to make small adjustments and note to yourself what you were doing incorrectly beforehand.
• Time of day: If you practice every day, you may notice that your body becomes more limber as the day goes on. This may affect balance. It’s easier to balance at the end of the day, often right before bed when there are no scheduled activities after practice and your mind is free to concentrate wholly on the practice at hand.
Can you think of any additional factors that may affect balance or other methods to improve balance? We want to know what has worked for you in your practice! Leave us a message below.