Balancing poses require one to be present, clear, and breathing well. Without these elements, even the most simple balancing poses will be difficult to practice. Perhaps, that is why we often use the phrase, “knocked off balance” when something unexpected happens – we are “hijacked” by thoughts, may feel muddled, and are unlikely to be breathing fully.
The best way to begin standing balancing poses is to stand in tadasana/mountain pose with eyes closed, feet hip width apart, engaging moola bandha and ujjaiy breath. Imagine growing tap roots into the earth through your feet – at the heel, and on the ball of the foot behind the big and little toe. These tools help us become present in the moment and aware of how we are negotiating with gravity in each breath. From this foundational position, one can begin to move mindfully into a balancing asana.
Virabhadrasana III/Warrior III pose
We can transition into this pose from tadasana/mountain pose by stepping back into a lunge, or from adho mukha svanasana/doward facing dog pose by stepping forward into a lunge. Move the hands ahead of the front foot and place them onto blocks. Shift the weight onto the front leg, careful to keep the knee aligned over the toes (see photos below).
Using a good exhale and engaging your core, lift the back leg up towards the ceiling until the foot is as high as your hips. Keep the hips even (the hip of the uplifted leg tends to hike up higher), core engaged, back straight, and uplifted leg very energized, as though you are pushing on a wall behind you with the ball of the foot. If you wish to go further, take the hands onto the hips while the rest of the body remains in the same position.
The full asana is expressed when the arms are stretched forward by the ears.
To exit the pose, step back to tadasana/mountain pose.
Natrajasana/Dancer’s pose (variation)
There are a few different variations of dancer’s pose. The one below will prepare you well for exploring other variations.
From tadasana/mountain pose, bend one leg, heel towards buttock, and catch the foot from the inside with your hand. The upper arm should be externally rotated to allow for greater spinal extension and opening of the chest and heart center. Lift the other arm by the ear towards the ceiling. I like to press my thumb and index fingers together (a hand gesture sometimes referred to as Guyan Mudra), as this mudra helps me feel present and in balance.
If you feel comfortable and balanced here, you can begin to move your chest forward and down, while your bent leg pushes back into the hand and up towards the ceiling. Be careful to engage the abdominal muscles strongly here, so that the lower back does not bend excessively; rather, try to bring extension into the mid- to upper-spine. Keep the hips even and breathe!
To exit, return to upright position, and stand in tadasana/mountain pose.
May you balance your way to clarity!
(Follow the links in this post for additional information on each topic. Happy learning!)
How many times have you found yourself holding your breath while trying to learn something new, such a half-pass or gymnastics combination? Yes? Most of us have 🙂
One of the gifts offered by yoga is learning how to breathe well, move, and perform at the same time. Importantly, we inhale and exhale with the mouth closed in yoga. Unlike exercise, such as running or pilates, yoga teaches practitioners how to meet stress with calm by activating the parasympathetic nervous system through breath.
In the first classes of our Tuesday and Thursday Yoga for Equestrians courses, we are focusing on the importance of connecting breath (prana, the life force) with movement. We also learn how to practice Ujjayi Breathing, Victorious Breath, a form of pranayama, or breath control, most used in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition, the form of yoga with which I began my journey over 20 years ago. Here are three simple and safe ways that one can practice breathing and moving:
Wave Breathing is safe for everyone, and can be practiced by cupping the knees or holding the backs of the thighs if that is a challenge. Exhale – knees in. Inhale – knees out.
Cat/Cow (or, for us: Cat/Sway Backed Horse!) is another good warm up for the spine and practice of connecting breath and movement. Really push the ground away and create a “Halloween Cat” with your back, including tucking the tailbone under (often, riders’ lower backs are tight and can benefit greatly from this movement). Keep elbows straight in Cow pose and draw the shoulders back. Exhale – round to Cat. Inhale – extend to Cow.
Swan Dive to Rag Doll Rollup allows the back to stretch nicely and for the prana to really wake up (I’m embedding the link to the FB post of it, as the video is too large to upload to this blog). Engage your abdominal muscles well in all the movements. If your back bothers you, keep your knees bent even on the “dive” forward and down, and/or support yourself by putting your hands on your thighs, as is shown later in the video. Inhale – reach up. Exhale – swan dive. Inhale and exhale as you slowly stack each vertebra on the now under it and round up to standing.
Feel free to comment or ask questions below!
Happy practicing ~namaste, Sylvia