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This month I’m going to share some of my favorite balancing postures, including variations for all levels of practitioners. Standing on one foot requires focus, concentration, strength, and relaxing the mind. Often times, the balancing series comes at the point during the practice when the class has built quite a bit of fire; the body is shaking, sweat is dripping, and air flow is expanding the lung capacity. Going from one-breath-one-movement to holding a series of balancing postures will challenge the body to stay present with the breath as thoughts whizz around the mind. The body is buzzing from movement, it will be working towards containing and centering itself in these extended holds.
Remember a few things before getting started:
Take your time.
Start from the ground up. Imagine roots connecting the earthed foot in each balance.
Use your core to balance, from head to tail, front to back.
Focus on your breath.
Don’t worry about what it looks like or if you fall out of the pose, bring awareness to what it feels like and re-plant yourself and try, try, try again.
Warm up: I do love leg lift pumps (count from 10 on each side). This fires up the entire leg, gets us right into our front body, and engages the abs.
Ready, set, balance. Begin each posture in Tadasana, standing mountain pose. Hold each posture for 30 seconds to a minute on each side.
Tree Pose – Vrksasana (beginner and intermediate)
Standing mountain pose, feel rooted in the left foot as you begin to lift the right foot on the inside of the left ankle, calf, or inner thigh. Steer clear of the knee joint to protect the knee. Utilize the left leg to press back into the sole of the right foot, this will create resistance stabilizing the stance. Tuck your tailbone slightly, lift your sternum, hug in your ribcage, and feel your shoulders relax. Take your hands to your heart and soften your gaze at one focal point, this is your dristi.
For the intermediate variation, cross your right foot high up onto the front of your left thigh near your hip crease. Take your hands into reverse prayer behind your back as you lift the chest and open the shoulders.
Eagle Pose – Garudasana (beginner and intermediate)
Shift your weight into the right foot. Cross your left leg over right, bend the right knee, and place the left big toe and little toe mound onto your mat – I like to think of it as a yoga-curtsy. Press the palms together up over head and line up the elbows to touch, or as close as you can get them. Keep the elbows at shoulder height and wrists above the elbows, away from the face.
For an added challenge, take the top leg over the rooted for a double bind hooking the toes on the inside of the lower calf. Bend the knees, lowering the hips, dropping the tailbone toward the pelvis. Think Tadasana, long spine, proud heart, ribs dropped. Double wrap the arms, left arm binds under the right.
Lord of the Dancer Pose – Natarajasana
Begin with the right arm lifted straight up and left arm bent palm faced up and out away from hip in preparation to grab the left foot. Inhale your weight into your right foot and lift your left heel towards your left butt-cheek. The left hand grabs ahold of the inside of your lifted foot, the knees together, kissing one another. As you kick into your left hand, extend your left knee straight back behind you so the lifted thigh is paralleled to the earth. Open from the heart space as you bow forward with a cobra chest and reach the right arm out in front of you.
Airplane, Warrior III – Virabhadrasana III
Raise both arms above your head and allow your weight to get heavy in your right foot. Take a big breath in and exhale sweeping both arms forward and back, palms face down. As you hinge from the hips, slightly micro bend your right knee as you extend your left leg back. Flex your left foot so the tips of your toes face toward the earth, the left inner thigh is internally rotating up towards the sky. Gaze is slightly forward as your arms, chest, and lifted leg parallel the floor.
I love the balancing series because no one day is the same on my mat. Some days my tree pose looks like I’m blowing in the wind and other days I feel my foot richly planted into the earth, tall and strong. Allow the postures to challenge you, change you, and bring you to the present moment.