How to balance? Relax. It is important to train balance since it gets worse with age, and, when we balance well, we develop excellent core strength. This particular yoga pose also stretches the quads and opens out the shoulder, so represents good value for effort.
The normal instruction to help with balance is to ‘tighten the core’ or, a particularly useless one: ‘pull the navel to the spine’. These instructions result in people bracing or gripping their abs, losing an easy breathing pattern, tightening up the shoulders and generally working away, feeling more and more wobbly as a balance is held. This is not how ‘the core’ works. Since ‘the core’ is meant to be ‘on’ when we exercise, if we just brace the abs when we work them, how on earth are we meant to breathe when out for a run? So to develop good balance, we must first relax to avoid gripping the superficial abs and allow the deep abs to engage. Here are 4 signs that this is happening – first, we can take a long, easy out breath; secondly we feel a gentle lift of the pelvic floor; thirdly the jaw and shoulders let go; fourthly the balance gets better and better as we hold the position.
Two important pointers: don’t eat gluten, since it turns the inner unit off. Second, imagine going to sleep as balancing. This really aids turning off those stress happy muscles that get in the way of good core strength.
I like this video since she goes through the variations from basic to advanced. Notice how in the very first position she tucks her tail under. I have taken a few classes for many years now and when we do a standing quad stretch, most people just grab the foot and pull it to the bottom, feeling no stretch whatsoever. By squeezing the bottom and tucking it under, suddenly the quad stretch is revealed. As far as the hand holding foot position goes, it may be necessary to start by grabbing the inside of the foot, but for best benefit, we need to work up to grabbing the outside of the foot since this opens up the shoulder more.
In summary, dancer’s pose combats day to day stress by forcing us to relax – or we wobble about; by improving the diet – or we wobble about; by stretching the tight hip flexors – made tight by sitting all day; opening out the shoulders, which round as we tap away at the MOB or play Angry Birds for relaxation and helps us breathe. Not bad for a few minutes of exercise.