One of the simplest yoga balance poses is to balance on the fronts of the feet with the heels lifted.
To stay balanced in this position work at keeping even pressure on your toes and forefeet. If you notice that your toes start to press down with more pressure than your forefeet then shift your pelvis back slightly. If you notice your forefeet pressing down with greater pressure than your toes then shift your weight forwards.
In either case work at shifting your weight just enough so that pressure is again evenly distributed between your toes and forefeet.
Why should we focus on keeping the pressure even between the toes and forefoot?
In general, if two points of our foundation are pressing down with equal pressure it means that our center of gravity is centered directly between those two points.
If, while balancing on the fronts of our feet, our center shifts forwards, we'll be able to feel that because our toes will press down with greater pressure.
Of our center of gravity has shifted too far forwards then one of the ways to get our center of gravity back to where we want it is to use the toes to press our body backwards. But only just enough to get our center where we want it.
The more we focus on feeling our feet the sooner we can spot when our center of gravity shifts (relative to our foundation) and the sooner we can compensate by moving our center back to where we want it to be.
Instead of trying to balance on your toes and forefeet straight away work gradually towards holding the pose for longer by first practicing rocking forwards and backwards. If we do so while focusing on feeling the weight shift in your feet we can get used to feeling pressure changes via our connection to the earth.
For this standing balance exercise start with feet hip width apart and parallel with knees slightly bent. Point your knees in the same direction as your toes.
(If your knees point inwards then chances are your inner arches have collapsed. This can make balancing difficult, particularly when balancing on one foot.)
Starting with weight even between heels and forefoot, rock forwards so that you feel your toes and the fronts of your feet pressing down with equal pressure. Keep your heels on the floor (as in the first two pictures above.)
Then rock back.
When you rock forwards center your weight between forefoot and toes. When you rock back center your weight between heel and forefoot.
Repeat a few times moving slowly and smoothly.
You can turn the above balance exercise into a four part weight shifting exercise that includes a heel lift as follows:
Keep the knees bent as you rock forwards and backwards.
Then, after repeating a few times, keep your weight forwards and keep your heels lifted.
Gradually lift your heels higher, straightening your knees as you do so.
You can try to lengthen your spine at the same time.
To balance on one foot at a time focus on keeping even pressure between the inner and outer edge of the foot you are standing on. Any changes in the way these two edges press down indicated that your center of gravity has shifted.
To counteract this shift:
You may find it easier to balance on one foot if you first practice weight shifting from side to side.
For side to side weight shifting start with your knees bent and weight even between both feet.
Shift your weight onto one foot. Pause and then move back to center.
Repeat to the same side a few times and then switch or alternate sides each time.
If you practice moving slowly and smoothly you may feel your supporting leg gradually becoming more stable and the other leg gradually relaxing.
As with the forwards/backwards weight shifting balance exercise, you can do the side ways weight shift in four steps.
From center shift to one foot, lift the other foot, place the foot down, then shift to center. Repeat to the same side or alternate sides each time you return to center.
When lifting a leg in this balance exercise initially try lifting the leg just a little. If you then hold the balancing position, then work at gradually lifting the leg higher.
When putting the foot down, pause when the foot touches the floor. Keep your weight on one leg. Then shift back to center.
When shifting onto one foot, and particularly when lifting the other foot, make sure that your standing foot and ankle are stable.
I've included more details on creating foot and ankle stability in Balance Basics.
Options for the lifted leg include: lifting the leg forwards with knee bent or to the side in a fake yoga tree pose, or you can straighten it to the front as in utthitta hasta padangusthasana 3. These yoga balance poses are covered in balancing on one foot.
In poses like tree pose, eagle, half bound lotus and utthitta hasta padangusthasana 1 and 2 the lifted leg is either bound or contacting the other foot.
This can make staying balanced trickier.
And so it helps to move into these types of poses gradually. These balancing postures are covered in balancing on one leg.
One of the reasons that I so often teach the standing weight shift as a prelude to other balancing exercises or balancing yoga poses is that the same principle can be applied to other poses.
In the front to back weight shift, our center of gravity is centered between the toes and forefeet when they both press down with equal pressure. That means that our heels aren't supporting any weight and so we can lift them and keep them lifted.
When shifting your weight forwards, look for the position where the heels of your hands and your finger tips (or the front of the palm) press down with even pressure. That tells you that your weight is over your hands and you should then be able to lift your feet without hopping. (When lifting your feet be sure to keep your arms and shoulders stable. Some of my students let their arms and shoulders collapse as they lift their feet and this allows their weight to shift backwards. As in the standing on one leg exercise, stabilize your foundation.)
Use the same principle to get your feet off of the floor in mayurasana (below right).
Note that some students like to try getting into bakasana (another name for crow pose) by starting in tripod headstand.
The first step is to place the shins on the backs of the arms. (Try pressing the shins downwards into the backs of the arms.)
To get the head of the floor shift your weight backwards. Notice when your weight is totally on your hands (with no weight on your head) and then stop your rearward movement. Keep your weight over your hands as you lift your head. Otherwise, if your weight keeps moving backwards then you'll end up with your feet on the floor again.
In Balancing Cat Pose the idea is to lift the same side leg and arm. What do you do prior to lifting the leg and arm? Shift your weight first (and feel your weight shift.) Then lift your arm and leg.
In Bound Headstand the hands are clasped behind the head the head with the elbows and forearms resting on the floor.
To balance in this yoga balance pose I'd suggest keeping your center of gravity midway between elbows and crown of the head.
To do this keep the pressure even between your elbows and the crow of your head.
When moving into bound headstand with legs straight use the shoulders to press the elbows into the floor.
This is especially important when trying to lift the feet off of the floor with knees straight. This also applies when doing bound headstand with feet against the wall.
To get your feet off of the wall, use the shoulders to stabilize the elbows.
When you press your elbows down, and you feel the connection between feet and wall relax then you know you can bring your feet away from the wall.
A similiar trick can be used to pull the feet away from the wall while doing handstand.
One of the reasons I often prefer doing handstand as opposed to headstand is that in handstand there is no pressure on the neck.
That being said, one of the things to also look out for when doing bound headstand is to keep the neck stable. To that make aligning the neck and stabilizing it part of your headstand warm up.
Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) is an inverted yoga pose most often used as a counter pose for headstand.
When I first started doing shoulderstand I was always worried about rolling over my head and hurting my neck.
With an understanding of balance and an improved awareness of how to feel my body I find that this fear is easier to overcome.
Where do you think your weight should be to make this pose comfortable?
Here's some basic tips for making balance easier from Balance Basics.
You can also order Balance Basics on Amazon.
Some simple exercises to help you prepare for and balance in crow pose and some suggestions for advanced movements like jumping from bakasana into chaturanga dandasana.
Forward head posture can result from computer work, stress, or poor body awareness. Here's some simple exercises to help feel your way into better posture.
In Bridge yoga pose increase the back bend of the hips and lumbar spine by moving the sacrum. Rather than saying which position is better the idea is to experiment and notice how both positions feel. And you may find the action of moving back and forwards between both positions helps you to get deeper into the backbend.
Work towards yoga lotus one leg at a time with exercises for closing the knee, stretching the hip rotators, practicing external rotation of the shin and activating and shaping the foot and ankle.
Basic movements of the sacroiliac joint are nutation (or nodding forwards) and counter nutation. Practice with these simple si joint exercises.
A variety of hamstring strengthening exercises while belly up, belly down and standing.
Shoulder flexibility stretches with scapular awareness. In these shoulder stretches first focus on positioning the scapula and then on stretching the shoulder.
Cognitive flexibilty is the ability to recognize a change in rules and act on those changes. It is also the ability to redefine rules as required. Dance of Shiva is one way of practicing and improving mental flexibility.
Yoga for flexibility with stretches for the hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, psoas, shoulders and arms. These yoga stretches are designed to improve flexiblity.
A selection of standing and seated hamstring stretches, both gravity assisted and muscle assisted for improving hamstring flexibility. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.
Here's the latest set of exercises that I use for stretching the hamstrings.
The exercises are designed to teach active hip flexion using a variation of boat pose.
Then the same action is (ideally) duplicated in seated forward bend.
This set of exercises is part of the introduction to the Hip Control Guide.
In this latest video I show you a couple of techniques that I use to get into the front-to-back splits. Note that this is both a hip flexor/psoas stretch as well as a hamstring (and hip extensor) stretch.
Simple shoulder awareness exercises for landing lightly doing Ashtanga jump backs. Learn how to keep your shoulders ahead of your wrists when moving back into plank or chaturanga dandasana.
Having trouble getting your feet off of the floor in headstand. This is a short video (3 mins) which shows a simple method for learning to lift your feet.
Got tight calves? Here are a couple of suggestions for stretching them. One uses downward facing dog. The other the gym.
Yoga shoulder stretches include reverse prayer, eagle arms, dwikonasana (prasaritta padotanasana c), yoga cow face arm position and downward facing dog.
Learning to stabilize the elbow joint with triceps medial and lateral head, as well as anconeus. Learn how to control forearm rotation with supinators and pronator muscles. You just might affect your shoulders in yoga poses like down dog and handstand.
I like being flexible and it's taken me a long time to get flexible.
I'm still working on improving it.
From someone who's spent a lot of time stretching (and teaching others to stretch) here are some of the do's and don'ts I'd recommend.
Adductor stretches stretch the muscles of the inner thigh and include bound angle pose, hurdlers stretch or frog pose, wide leg seated forward bend, prone big toe pose, half side split pose, side to side splits or box splits.
Hip stretches for stretching the hip extensors as well as the glutes and piriformis.