You probably learned to balance at the ripe age of two. But honing the skill is essential to your overall fitness performance as an adult, too. Rebecca Weible, yoga coach and owner of Yo Yoga! studio in New York City, says yoga urges us to improve our balance, posture and evenly distribute our weight in our feet. “Look at your own shoes. You’ll notice how worn out the heels are. Is one sole more battered than the other?” Weible says.
Mastering balance-focused yoga poses is one way to bring awareness to your weight distribution, while also building strength, stability and alignment. “It makes a huge difference when we’re running, weightlifting, doing plyometrics or performing agility moves,” Weible explains. Whether you’re doing tree pose or Warrior III, “your whole body needs to be involved with yoga,” Weible says.
Check out these five yoga poses to help you improve your balance and coordination.
5 Great Yoga Poses for Head-to-Toe Strength
If you’re new to yoga, Weible recommends using a wall or chair to help you stabilize. “The goal is to notice the wall and lighten your touch. You can move from having your entire hand on the wall to just your fingertips,” she says.
1. Tricky Kitty
This beginner’s yoga pose is an excellent progression to standing positions, like tree pose or Warrior III. Weible likes this pose for balance because you’re much closer to the ground, and your body is immediately forced to find balance.
How to: Get into tabletop position with your knees directly below your hips and your arms and shoulders perpendicular to the floor (a). Step your right foot back and keep it tucked (b). As you inhale, simultaneously lift your left hand and right leg off the floor. Your left fingers are pointing straight in front of you and your right foot is flexed and forms a straight line with your back and head (c). Focus on a point on the ground and keep your chest lifted and open so your upper body could provide support (d). As you exhale, slowly bring your right leg and left hand back down to the ground in tabletop position (e). Repeat the same movement on the other side.
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2. Tree Pose
Tree pose reminds us to engage our core muscles, specifically the obliques, in order to maintain alignment from head to foot. Bringing your hands to prayer (mudra) isn’t just for aesthetics; it helps keep your chest open and extends your upper back so you stand straighter. Need to modify? Weible suggests placing the tip of your toes on the mat or resting your heel against the standing ankle for more support. From there, your foot can flutter to the calf and work its way above your knee on your thigh, but you should never have your foot on your knee, as it’s too straining for that joint.
How to: Stand in mountain pose (tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart, hands by your sides, palms facing forward (a). Begin to shift your weight onto your right foot and bend your left knee (b). Slowly grab your left ankle with your left hand and place it against your inner right thigh, pressing your left foot sole with your toes pointing to the ground (c). Engage your core as you place your hands in prayer pose (mudra) (d). Focus on a point in front of you and hold for two or three breaths before bringing your left foot back down to the ground (e). Repeat the same movement on the other side.
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3. Eagle Pose
The binds in eagle pose help loosen the joints for balance and improve mobility. Weible says as people age, their balance starts to change, but poses like eagle can help prevent falls. This pose forces you to keep your hips square, even when you’re balancing on one leg, so you’re not shifting side to side.
How to: Stand in mountain pose (tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart, hands down by your sides, palms facing forward. Make sure the toes on your left foot are firmly ground on the floor (a). Have a slight bend in your knees and slightly sit your hips back as you lift your right leg and cross it over your left thigh. If you can, cross your right foot around your left calf, too, or use a block to rest your right foot on (b). Bring your hands to eye level and cross your right arm underneath your left. Then, cross your right forearm over your left to bring your palms together (c). Keep your hips square and your chest lifted and open so that your head, shoulders and hips are all aligned (d). Unbind your arms and legs, and repeat the same movement on the other side.
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4. Warrior III
You’ll feel like a single-leg warrior once you master this challenging balance pose. But your back leg doesn’t have to be lifted crazy high, Weible says. Start with a lower lift that’s closer to the floor, while keeping your spine straight. When you’re balancing, your standing leg can be a little bent to have a more grounding effect.
How to: Get into a lunge position by stepping your right foot behind you, landing on the ball of your foot, with your left knee bent in front, pressing your feet firmly into the ground. Make sure your right knee doesn’t touch the floor (a). Simultaneously straighten your left leg as you lift your right foot behind you. While some people lunge forward, it can ruin your balance, so try straightening your front leg instead (b). Keep your right foot flexed and imagine it pressing against the wall behind you. Your right leg should be lifted and aligned with your hips and back so it’s parallel to the ground (c). Bring your palms together in prayer and hold for two or three breaths (d). Step your right foot back down to the ground and come to standing.
5. Dancer’s Pose
The key to balancing in this elegant pose is to keep your hips square, even as you open the hip, Weible says. Because your arms are lifting your foot, it helps to open your chest and have a slight back bend. Bridge or boat pose are great progressions to practice before moving onto dancer’s pose because they open the hips and stretch the quadriceps.
How to: Stand in mountain pose (tadasana) with your feet hip-distance apart, hands by your sides, palms facing forward (a). Begin to shift your weight onto your right foot and lift your left heel toward your butt, bending your left knee (b). Reach your left hand behind you to grab the outside of your left foot or ankle. Be sure to keep your hips square and your chest lifted (c). Lift your left foot up and back so that your left thigh and left arm are parallel to the floor (d). Raise your right arm at your side with your fingers pointing to the ceiling (e). Hold for two to three breaths before bringing your left foot back down to the ground. Repeat the same movement on the other side.
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Originally published on February 25, 2017. Updated on December 21, 2021
All images via Shutterstock