If you find balancing difficult while standing on one foot you can make it easier if you learn to stabilize the foot and hip joint of your standing leg.
Think of your standing leg as your foundation.
Stabilizing both the foot and hip of that leg helps to give you a stable foundation. You can then use it to make standing and balancing easier.
Stabilizing the feet while standing on both feet involves
These actions can be practiced easily while standing on both feet. Then you can work at using the same actions to keep your standing foot stable while standing on one foot.
While the foot provides your foundation when standing on one foot another important element to stabilize is your standing leg hip.
(For the latest on hip stability read "muscles of the hip joint.")
By stabilizing foot and hip of your standing leg you effectively stabilize and control your entire standing leg making it easier to balance on one foot and to control your body.
But it isn't enough to just be able stabilize your pelvis. Depending on the pose that you are doing while standing one one foot you may need to have your pelvis tilted to one side or the other, rotated forwards or backwards, or you may need to keep your pelvis level.
So that you can get used to "feeling" the position of your pelvis and fine tuning it, you can use a modified version of the warrior 3 yoga pose.
In the modified version you can balance on one foot, tilt your body forwards but keep both knees bent and your lifted leg hanging down.
Practice slowly tilting your pelvis from side to side. (Drop the right side of your pelvis so that it is lower than the left side. Then do the opposite.)
Do this slowly and smoothly and see if you can "feel" when your pelvis is level from left to right.
With your torso more upright you can also practice tilting your pelvis from side to side. (Let your spine bend from side to side as you do this, the focus on this exercise is "feeling" your pelvis.) See if you can feel when your pelvis is level and when it is not.
In both cases you might use a mirror to check your assessment of when your pelvis is level. However, rather than relying on the mirror try to feel your pelvis from inside of your body. Look for the indications that tell you that it is level. If you are having difficulty, then continue slowly tilting your pelvis from side to side until you can recognize the difference in sensations that tell you that your pelvis is level.
One you are used to positioning your pelvis and feeling it the next step is to practice stabilizing your pelvis while standing on one leg.
To do this "squeeze" your side glutes (gluteus medius) and glute max (gluteus maximus).
Like "feeling" your pelvis, the squeeze should be an exercise in sensitivity. You can vary the squeeze and the way that it feels. With experience (and practice) you'll find a squeeze that doesn't make you feel anxious but instead gives your hip and yoga pose stability.
If you are having trouble squeezing your side glutes, stand on both legs and practice slowly pressing your thighs apart without moving your feet. Press and release, press and release. Do both actions slowly and smoothly.
Memorize the feeling that you get when your side glutes activate and create this same feeling on one leg. However since you aren't using your legs against each other what will actually happen is that your side glutes will be resisted by your adductors (the muscles of your inner thigh.)
So that this happens, when you squeeze your side glutes while standing on one foot, focus on keeping your pelvis and stationary leg stable.
Once you've learned to squeeze your side glutes, see if you can then move the tension to your ass muscles (your glutes.)
To learn how to "squeeze" gluteus maximus, slowly sit back while keeping your knees over your feet. You'll have to lean forwards to stay balanced. Go down slowly and feel when your glutes activate. Keep that activation as you stand up. You might feel like you are "thrusting" your pelvis forwards. Next practice activating your glutes without bending your knees. Squeeze and release and use when necessary.
I've included more exercises for learning to feel (and consciously activate) your hip muscles in The Hip Control Guide.
These exercises are just the beginning.
When shaping the foot my suggestion is that once you've learned to activate your foot muscles to stabilize your foot, ankle and shin then fine tune the degree to which you tense those muscles and see if you can use the minimum effort necessary. Lifting weights you may need more force but just using body weight the effort required is less.
Likewise with your glutes and stabilizing your hip joints. As you get used to using these muscles see if you can find the minimum force necessary to keep your pelvis and femur in the desired relationship. If you find that relationship shifting or changing then use your hip stabilizers to prevent that change.
To help you stabilize efficiently and effectively you might want to practice a series of yoga poses while standing on one foot. See how smoothly and controlled you can move through these positions while keeping your foot and hip stable and while feeling and controlling your upper body.
Repeat while standing on the other foot.
Move between all poses while standing on one foot. Then switch to standing on the other foot.
If you have difficulty, take a rest when you need to or first practice each pose on each foot in turn before moving on to the next pose.
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After a bit of a hiatus its back to stretching for beginners.
The latest installment is a mini sequence that works towards the half split inner thigh stretch with some prone twisting and outer thigh stretching followed by some recovery work with standing poses to help reactivate the inner thighs.
This set of poses is designed to show you how to activate the spinal erectors to bend the spine backwards so that you stretch the front of the torso. It also includes stretches like upright pigeon pose and upward facing dog for stretching the front of the hip (the hip flexors).
The latest stretch in the "Stretches for Beginners" series is a set of hip extensor stretches including happy baby and low lunge. Previous stretches in this series include bound angle (baddha konasana) and a pigeon pose hip stretch for the sides of the hip.
For well being is it better to be able to contract a muscle or relax it? I'd suggest that you learn to do both and just as importantly... Learn to feel when a muscle is activated and when it is relaxed.
The key to both is...
The yoga basics bundle is a collection of five yoga basics ebooks: balance basics, shoulder basics, backbend basics, hamstring basics and the hip control guide all for $52.00. (The suggested regular price is $124.95)
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