A Simple Practice for Better Balance

December 10, 2016    BY Kathryn Ashworth

We yogis often equate balance-boosting postures with asanas that require standing on one leg or balancing on the balls of both feet. It’s easy to forget that standing up, in and of itself, is an act of balance.

While tadasana might not appear to be as thrilling as eagle, warrior III, tree pose, or half moon, the benefits of its practice are many and deep. As with savasana, this posture can help us to find stillness and to root into a deep sense of connectivity with ourselves, the earth, and the space around us. For yoga beginners, it can serve as a reprieve during challenging flows (something of a child’s pose for standing sequences). And for anyone suffering from chronic unsteadiness, tadasana is a safe and less intimidating place from which to begin balance work.

While tadasana might not appear to be as thrilling as eagle, warrior III, tree pose, or half moon, the benefits of its practice are many and deep.

I personally learned the value of this posture through teaching a close friend who struggles with balance. When we began working together, he was a complete yoga beginner, and he expressed his discomfort with a full sequence. So I asked him to start with something very familiar: to simply stand, but with focused awareness.

After weeks of working together, we incorporated meditation and a few more poses. But it was tadasana that was his doorway into yoga. And tadasana was at the very heart of the work we did together. Over time, he expressed that his symptoms were improving, and I felt I was witnessing the miracle of yoga at work. While his balance-related health concerns may never go away, the posture continues to provide a valuable tool for lessening his symptoms.

The following is an exercise in tadasana for enhanced balance and stability. This breath-centric practice focuses on full body awareness. Standing in a well-aligned posture can prevent hip, knee, and lower back pain. It can also help us maintain the natural curves in our spine, preventing exaggerated curvature in either direction. So although this pose instruction is written for people who struggle with balance, anyone can benefit from practicing it.

A Practice for Balance

Stand near a wall, next to a chair, or have both within reach. If your balance concerns are severe, it may be helpful to have a chair to one side and a wall to another. Or you may want to have the chair back directly in front of you. At any point you can use these tools for support.

Begin with your eyes open or softened, standing with your feet hip-width (two fists-width) apart or a little wider if that feels more stable. Broaden through the chest, soften the low ribs back if they draw forward, and move the back of your head slightly back—in line with the back of the pelvis/tailbone.

Notice your breath. Try to identify where in the body you are breathing. On each inhalation the upper abdomen and rib cage expand, and on each exhalation the lower belly contracts softly. See if you can deepen your breath, and then make the transition between inhalation and exhalation smoother (reducing the pause between them).

Now bring the awareness you’ve created to the connection between the soles of your feet and the earth. Sense the mounds below your big toes and the mounds below your pinky toes and your heels grounding into that connection. Feel the pull of gravity, and energetically lift up through the arches of your feet. Root down, rise up.

Then observe your feet in their entirety—the soles, the toes, the arches, even the tops of the feet and each foot’s connection to each ankle—and make your two feet the center of your attention in this moment. Focus on the stability your feet offer you, and see if that stability deepens when you rest your awareness inside of it.

Focus on the stability your feet offer you, and see if that stability deepens when you rest your awareness inside of it.

Let your awareness then travel up your calves to your knee caps. Draw your knee caps up and engage the quads, then firm through the glutes (but without clenching or allowing the feet to turn out), and finally tone your belly—but only slightly (not so much that you disturb the quality of your breathing.) Continue to engage your low belly on the exhale, and see if your can maintain that tone as you inhale and expand your upper abdomen and ribcage. Stand strong but allow yourself to relax in the way you hold yourself. 

Notice your arms resting at your sides. Relax your fingers. Release any gripping (even if you’re  holding onto a chair, try not to grip). If both hands are at your sides, open and turn the palms to face forward. Imagine that you could also breathe into the palms of your hands, even each finger and each fingertip.

See if you can soften your gaze now, but without forcing this action. You can even close your eyes if you feel steady enough. How does the space around you feel? Can it absorb you? Can it hold you? Notice what you are thinking in this moment. Soften any reactivity, particularly around any unsteadiness you may feel, and allow yourself to be just as you are.

Stand here linking body, attention, and breath for as long as you’d like. Again, notice the control you find over any shakiness. See how the stability changes as you rest your awareness there. Perhaps it deepens. But if it doesn’t, remember that this is a practice you can return to daily, and benefits of practice are not always immediate.

When you feel complete, take some time to reflect on what tadasana has offered you. And see if you can stand with this much awareness throughout your day.

Conclusion

We can all practice yoga. According to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the practice of yoga is a concerted effort to rest the mind in a peaceful flow. In this regard, any action we take that helps cultivate a sense of inner equilibrium is yoga. And if ever you don’t know what to do, as a teacher of mine often says, “simply rest and breathe.”

According to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the practice of yoga is a concerted effort to rest the mind in a peaceful flow.

Tadasana may not feel effortless to you just yet, or ever, or it may already be a breeze. Regardless, this pose can provide each of us the opportunity to slow down, stop, and simply be. We don’t have to practice vinyasa flows or achieve advanced poses to progress in asana. We can stand tall, and breathe, and work toward an inner space of calm and balance that can proffer empowerment and ease.

Kathryn Ashworth
Kathryn is an associate editor at Yoga International. She found her way to yoga one starry night in Portugal at Monte Sahaja (the ashram of advaita master Mooji). Now she lives at the Himalayan Institute, where she continues her studies. She views yoga primarily as a healing practice that can re-awaken a sense of wonder, purpose, and (to quote one of her teachers, Rolf Sovik) "relentless optimism."

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