Yoga postures which are designed to improve balance have the beneficial side effect of also improving other aspects. They will naturally work to improve your range of motion and the strength of your muscles. While you’re concentrating on the swaying of your body, your muscles naturally get stronger. This happens as a result of the length of time that you hold your balance-improving poses.
Some poses for balance improvement require you to squat or lunge, which further works to strengthen your leg muscles. Yoga poses are based largely on stretching for the entire body. This has the effect of improving the range of motion of your joints, too. As balance improves, so does flexibility, because the joints are also getting the pose benefits. Due to the increased range of motion, your balance improves since you won’t fall as easily. And if it you did fall over (Which happens often in a yoga class!) your body will be strong enough to withstand the dangers of sustaining injuries.
A strong core is central to a healthy yoga practice. Core stability is also crucial for good physical balance, as the core muscles work together to hold our bodies upright. This includes the muscles of the pelvic floor. By improving the strength and stability of the core abdominal and pelvic muscles, yoga facilitates the ability to balance. This also involves muscles in the diaphragm, which are also engaged when breathing. Everything in the body is connected, and yoga ensures that every muscle is coordinated to function as a whole, rather than targeting single body parts or muscle groups.
Stability of the joints
Good balance requires stable joints, particularly in the hip, knee, ankle and foot. This is where the weight is carried. So a poor connection of the feet to the ground due to turning inwards, pronating or weak muscles will affect the balance. Weakness or de-stabilisation in the ankles through injury, bad posture or illness will have the same impact.
Knees are particularly vulnerable joints. Painful knees will directly impact the ability to balance and move with ease. In addition, we have natural tendencies to shift the weight to the healthy leg when we feel pain, which in turn removes balance because we are trying (Sometimes not even consciously) to balance on one leg.
Hips deserve a chapter all to themselves. We have become a sedentary species. And sitting too much is not great if we are trying to improve our balance. (Although sitting in itself, done properly, is an act of balance in it’s own right.) Suffice it to say that badly aligned hips, a painful sacrum or sacroiliac joint, or injuries to the lumbar spine all contribute to a lack of balance and difficulties in moving forward unaided.
Fortunately, yoga is a great way of engaging all the muscles in the lower extremities and the lower back. Through the standing, kneeling and bending postures, all the muscles and joints are put into motion. The benefits of yoga for strong legs and hips are multiple and it is proven that a prolonged yoga practice will in turn prolong mobility, and alongside it balance.
Yoga for balance
Given all the above, a regular practice of yoga will definitely go a long way to improve balance, whilst also building strength in the body and keeping the joints mobile. In fact, the practice of yoga itself is about gaining balance between mind and body, passive and active, hard and soft, strong and flexible. Balance embodies not only the physical, but the spiritual and emotional context of yoga. Investing in a regular practice will pay dividends in the long term. As in all things where the body is concerned, there is no quick fix solution.
Eventually, the body learns to hold itself with strength and poise, to release tension and to keep the joints moving smoothly.