If balance is not your strong suit, don’t be discouraged from yoga altogether! Balance comes with practice and yoga doesn’t depend on balance, it develops it.
While some yogis are naturally more in tune with their sense of equilibrium, there’s still technique involved. Balancing in yoga requires patience, gradual advancement of a pose and focus. Here I'll tell you more about these three ways that will help to develop these qualities in your practice.
Balance isn’t something we’re born with, it’s something we develop over time. Be patient. Give yourself weeks, months and even years of yoga classes to develop your sense of balance. It comes with practice.
Before you start comparing yourself to other yoga students who never seem to fall out of vrksasana (tree pose), keep in mind that they may be years into their practice. They also may have developed their sense of balance outside of yoga, in dance or hiking, for example. Their practice is theirs, and yours is yours. Let them be an inspiration rather than a source of competition.
Those new to yoga tend to be very hard on themselves. They don’t yet realize that yoga is a solo journey and there’s absolutely no competition or possibility of being “good” or “bad” at it! It’s a continual, lifelong practice—not a pursuit of perfection. (Here's more on why Patience Really Is a Virtue.)
One of the biggest mistakes a yoga beginner can make is going too big, too quickly. A pose like tree pose looks easy, but the full pose requires a strong sense of equilibrium. Instead of jumping into tree’s full expression with one foot against the opposite thigh, start with one heel resting on top of the grounded foot. This is challenging in itself. Work on this expression of tree for several classes. Once it no longer feels challenging, then try resting the foot against the opposite calf. The final step will be to rest the foot against the opposite thigh.
Most yoga poses offer similar incremental steps. In an arm balance like kakasana (crow pose), for example, you may try lifting just one foot from the floor at a time. Eventually, you’ll be able to lift both feet simultaneously. You may only hover there for a moment, but with practice, you’ll learn to lift both feet with control and draw them closer to your bottom.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Balance is really a matter of focus more than the actual skill of balancing. You need both mental and visual focus to stay in a pose. Without either, equilibrium is nearly impossible!
If your gaze is bouncing around the yoga studio, your sense of balance will waver, too. Yoga recommends employing drishti to stay steady. Drishti is unwavering, focused gaze at a single point. It helps improve both physical and mental balance. (To help get you started, here are 3 Drishti Every Beginner Should Know.)
As you work your way into a pose, lock your vision on a single point. In crow, for example, gaze at a point on the floor about a foot ahead of you. Keep that gaze steady as you lift your feet from the floor and even as you exit the pose. This same drishti can be used in any arm balance.
In a standing balancing posture like tree, fix your drishti at a point several feet directly ahead of you. Keep a focused, unwavering gaze as you lift one foot from the floor. Maintain this gaze throughout the pose and even as you return to the starting position.
Learning to balance on a physical plane will help develop mental focus, and vice versa. You can improve your sense of balance on the mat by working on your power of concentration off that mat. Most importantly, stop multitasking. When you’re working, focus on your work. When you’re eating, focus on your food. Put your phone on silent and flip it over so that you’re not distracted by notifications. Be fully present with the task at hand, and your power of concentration will grow. This will translate into your power of physical balance, and your yoga practice will grow, too. (Here's even more benefits and Joys of Unplugging.)
Enjoy Your Progress
One of the most fun aspects of a consistent yoga practice is recognizing your own development. In the beginning, everything feels difficult—from holding the poses to staying focused on the breath. Balancing can feel especially challenging. But by having patience, advancing gradually and honing in on your power of concentration, your balance will improve.
It will also waiver; some days you may balance better than others. But, overall, you’ll experience steady progress, and eventually you’ll be able to fly in even the most challenging of arm balances. Yoga is meant to be a lifelong practice. Keep this in mind as you work on your balance. Embrace playfulness as a beginner and advance step-by-step with love and acceptance. (Read on about how to do this by Practicing Aparigraha (Non-Attachment).)