One of the ways that yoga improves your balance is by improving the awareness you have of your body. Yoga is based on the principle of being mindful of how your body responds to any movement. When practicing any yoga posture, the yogi is encouraged to always be fully present in the moment. This means always being aware of the sensations happening in the body as a posture is held. You will learn to be aware of the adjustments required, and the real concentration it takes to maintain your balance. With enough practice, your body will learn just how to precisely shift the weight to retain balance. With increased balance, you will note that you will be more secure against falling.
The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body is known as proprioception. In humans, these stimuli are detected by nerves within the body itself, as well as by the semicircular canals of the inner ear. It is a sense of where the body finds itself relevant to surrounding objects, placement of the limbs and direction of movement.
If proprioception is challenged, then there will be a lack of balance. The person may be prone to stumbling, falling or bumping into objects.
A regular practice of yoga allows these senses to develop, as more and more emphasis is placed on centering the body, connecting firmly with the surface and positioning the legs or arms. With constant repetition, new neural pathways are built to allow the postures to develop and in turn, this improves the ability to sense where the movement is taking place. The muscle memory that is part of our natural physical learning processes help us to sense how we position ourselves in the space around us as we do increasingly difficult postures.
Proprioception is an important element in all yoga postures, but especially the standing poses and one-legged balances. This includes the sense of equilibrium, which is practiced during sequences like sun salutations, where the position of the head relevant to the rest of the body is constantly changing. It moves from standing forward with the head lowered to the floor, to raising all the way to standing with the head tilted back facing the ceiling, and everything in between. It is quite common for beginners to feel dizzy as the sense of equilibrium as challenged. There is also an early impact of blood pressure changes as the head moves into different positions in relation to the heart. Then there are the inversions, like Ado Mukha Savasana (Downward Facing Dog) and Sirsana (Headstand) which take the body entirely upside down. Eventually, the body gets used to the positioning and even comes to relish the “head rush” of hormones released by challenging gravity in this way.
But eventually, the body learns to deal with the effects. As this happens, proprioception improves so the sense of equilibrium is maintained. A direct result of this is that balance improves.