When we work on balance postures in yoga we usually focus on maintaining steady position for a certain amount of time. This is a very useful aspect of balance training, but it is not the most important. After all, how often do we just stand on one leg for extended period of time in real life? In fact, the main benefit of static balance training is to improve dynamic balance.
Our balance is challenged most when we are in motion – whether we are walking (especially on uneven surfaces), going up or down the steps, hopping from rock to rock to cross a stream, and so on. To make this process smooth and balanced we need to both initiate the movement and resist momentum that carries us forward.
There are three types of dynamic balance:
1. Dynamic steady-state (maintaining a steady position during walking)
2. Proactive balance (anticipation of a predicted perturbation)
3. Reactive balance (compensation of an unpredicted perturbation)
And while static yoga postures work well for developing muscle strength required to maintain balance and promote overall structural integration, they do not directly train us for any of these types of dynamic balance. However, there are four easy ways to to train your balance for daily life:
1. Move in and out of the balance pose
In viniyoga tradition we call this “repetition” (as opposed to “staying” in the pose). Moving in and out of the pose before holding it has many benefits. Relative to balance, it gives us an opportunity to refine our movement patterns. Remember how we talked about the process of “facilitation”? This means that our bodies and brains adapt to the changing external or internal conditions, learning how to deal with them more efficiently. So by moving in and out of the balance pose we are teaching both the body and brain how to handle the shift in balance. We do it over and over again so it becomes more automatic. (Click on image to view video)
2. Move within the balance pose
This is particularly useful for training proactive balance. It simply means that when you are holding the pose you would move your leg, or arms, or body while trying to keep the base steady. This trains your body and brain to anticipate a potential challenge to your balance and adjust accordingly. Ballerinas do it all the time, which helps them develop extraordinary balance for all those arabesque-s and fouette-s. (Click on image to view video)
3. Move between two or more balancing poses
In this situation your body and brain need to negotiate two different balancing challenges. It is particularly useful if you alternate balancing on one leg and then another which imitates the action of walking and all other habitual repetitive movement that we do in our daily lives. It helps you train the dynamic steady-state balance. (Click on image to view video)
4. Try defying expectation movements
You can challenge your students on the spot without giving them a warning of which version of the balance pose is coming next, which means that they will have less time to prepare and will have to react to the challenge in real time. This is very useful in training reactive balance. (Click on image to view video)
It is very easy to add some of the elements above to your balance training – try it for yourself and see if it makes a difference!