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The Best Yoga Poses to Build Better Balance • Yoga Basics

kiran
Written by kiran

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Not every yoga class includes a balancing pose—but they certainly should. Standing on one leg is challenging and demanding, which in turn builds both inner and outer strength and resilience. Having a strong sense of balance increases proprioception and body awareness boosts confidence and self-esteem, creates a strong sense of groundedness, and can prevent future injuries and falls. Improving your balance is also needed to progress towards more advanced and challenging balancing poses like Crane, Extended Hand to Toe, and revolved half moon. If you’ve ever felt shaky or unstable in your yoga practice, check out our expert recommendations on what poses to master for better balance.

What is the best way to improve your balance? 

To create and cultivate balance, focus on a few foundational yoga poses that hold the keys to understanding the use of alignment, muscular engagement, and mental focus. Have your practice be dedicated and consistent and you will slowly see improvement in your ability to stay balanced. Also, having a wholesome, healthy, and balanced yogic lifestyle will also support your physical balance on the mat. Criticism and judgment are definitely not helpful so try to cultivate humility and lightheartedness and do your best to leave your ego outside of your practice.

Yoga Poses to Improve Balance

We asked several yoga teachers and experts what they believe are the most important asanas to improve and increase balance. Our list spans from the most basic beginner postures to a few pretty challenging ones! You obviously need to regularly practice Balancing Poses to improve your balance. The bottom line is you need to establish a strong foundation for even the most basic balancing asana. We are honored and grateful for all of the helpful and detailed advice and tips on what are the most important yoga poses that beginners and experienced yogis should learn and practice to improve their balance.

6 best poses for balance


Click on the links below to jump to the yoga pose discussion in the article.

Mountain pose (Tadasana)

The foundation for all of the standing yoga poses is Tadasana, or Mountain pose. Practicing this pose with keen awareness and a strong muscular engagement is a powerful and effective way to create balance. “This pose makes me feel steady and stable,” explains yoga teacher and interfaith minister Rev. Connie L. Habash. “Whenever I’m feeling off, I come back to Tadasana. It gives me the sense of ‘standing on my own two feet’, of being able to hold my ground.  If we practice Tadasana, which seems so simple and easy, with great awareness, we’ll build the foundations we need for more challenging one-legged poses, and also for healthy balance in our life.

“Tadasana builds our yoga foundation from the ground up. We learn to spread our toes, root our weight evenly between the balls and heels of the feet, and activate our arches to lift the weight of the body up. The muscles of the legs are engaged mindfully, but not aggressively, to continue that lift. We learn that balance and steadiness are an integration of both rooting and rising, just like a tree. The strength of the ankles can be developed, too. And then all the way up the core, we engage and support the upward lift of the torso, through the neck and crown of the head. Additionally, we cultivate our awareness of our center in the belly. There are actions in the chest, shoulders, and arms, too—we could even bring awareness to the jaw and face. There’s a lot going on in Tadasana and practiced with this expanded awareness and engagement, we develop the foundations needed for all other poses.”

Habash offers several examples of how to explore the various details of the pose through visualization, muscular engagement, and pose variations.

  • Imagine rooting through the bones of the legs, while rising up with the flesh of the muscles, hugging in and upward on those bones. This balances the rooting/rising principles.
  • Spread the toes (even use your fingers to help them separate), and then encourage a lift in the inner arches. This practice is critical for people with flat feet – it will significantly help create healthy balance.
  • Draw in the lower belly, to stabilize the core of the body; but also imagine that inside the core you are soft and at ease. We want an integration of activity as well as ease.
  • Practice with the feet hip-width apart for more steadiness; as that becomes easy, bring the feet together with the heels slightly separated. When that is well-developed, close your eyes. Attempt to steady the swaying body with the actions in the feet, legs, and core of the body.
  • Strengthen the ankles by rising up on your toes (specifically, the balls of the feet). Have your feet together, and hug the ankles in as you do this, building strength in the ankle muscles and tendons. You can start with just an inhale coming up on the toes, and an exhale lowering down, slow and steady. Over time, you can learn to hold for several breaths and reach your arms overhead. This greatly helps with the ankle strength needed for one-legged balancing poses.

Balancing Table pose (Dandayamna Bharmanasana)

Laura Finch, the founder of Yogakali, thinks yoga teachers overemphasize standing one-foot asanas—such as Warrior III, Dancer, or Tree pose and does not think these poses are beginner-friendly. “My experience shows that when you teach a typical yoga class, many practitioners don’t find them accessible unless they have confident wall support by their side” she explains. “Instead, I feel we should dedicate more time to basic yoga poses, such as Balancing Table. 

Balancing Table pose is beneficial for beginners and experienced yogis alike. There’s a low risk of falling, and the pose can be practiced by most healthy yogis, including pregnant women and yogis prone to getting dizzy while standing. Those who have sensitive knees or wrists can always include yoga props such as yoga wedges or a blanket for extra cushion and comfort. To modify, beginners can press the lifted foot against a wall for extra stability. Experienced yogis can use Balancing Table as a core activation exercise and as a preparatory pose for more difficult balancing postures such as Warrior III or Half Moon.”

Finch offers several benefits of practicing the Balancing Table pose to strengthen one’s ability to balance in more challenging poses. 

  • First, it helps build essential core/lumbar spine stability—a vital component of balance that helps us perform daily activities, from getting up from bed to staying balanced when walking up the stairs and carrying grocery bags. Needless to say, this core stability is also what helps us stay balanced in more challenging balancing postures.
  • Second, it improves our sense of coordination and focus. Easy as it seems, this movement requires ample motor control over abdominals and lower back muscles that have to stay stable while you’re actively working your glutes and hamstrings.
  • Third, it engages and strengthens the muscles of wrists and forearms. These are necessary for both challenging arm balances and basic Downward Dog.

Tree pose (Vrksasana)

The most common balance building asana in yoga is Tree pose (Vrksasana). “This pose has many benefits on a physical, mental and emotional level,” notes Huma Gruaz, Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist. “When I teach this pose, I give modifications to my students so anyone can practice it.  For students who are beginners, I recommend a prop—chair or a wall, they can hold onto to work on their balance.”

Tree pose helps improve our posture through the engagement of the body, legs, core, upper, and lower back. It strengthens the feet and the legs—mainly ankles, calves, quads, inner thighs, and hamstrings.  The pose helps open up the hips which helps relieve sciatic pain while fortifying the glutes. One way to improve the strength through this pose is by squeezing everything through the midline of the body—outer hips, thighs, foot against the inner thigh which further builds stamina while enhancing the balance.”

Tree pose helps to create a sense of groundedness and it can help cultivate confidence, focus, concentration, and self-esteem. This pose can also boost the grace, poise, and ease with which you approach difficult and challenging circumstances, both on and off your yoga mat.

Gruaz encourages practitioners looking for a challenge to “start taking their eyes to the left and right which makes the balance more difficult as the vestibular system (inner ear balance mechanism) works with the visual system (eyes and the part of the brain – the cerebellum – that controls balance). With time, students can master this as well and the next phase of improvement of balance is through closing the eyes.  One can achieve this by looking at an object that is still, visualizing this object in their mind when they close the eyes and through this visualization enabling to stay balance.”

Side Plank pose (Vasisthasana)

Registered Yoga Teacher Caroline Baumgartner believes “any pose that focuses on core stabilization is key to building balance whether that means holding poses on one foot, head or handstands, or even twisting poses. My favorite core stabilizer pose that helps build balance is Plank pose. Variations such as low plank, side plank and balancing plank (alternating the foot and hand placed on your mat and elevating the others) are similarly helpful.”

The benefits of plank and variations of plank include strengthening the core while also strengthening the back and leg muscles. This asana also strengthens the hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders which is helpful to work up to more challenging arm-balance poses like crow and handstand. Holding plank can build heat and intensity quickly, which in turn creates inner-strength, resilience, and grit.

Baumgartner likes to use core stabilizers at the beginning of her practice, to wake up her abdominal muscles which makes her feel stronger and more balanced throughout her practice. “I love plank poses because they strengthen my entire practice. Plank and plank variations challenge me mentally and physically, and they also enable me to deepen poses and hold intermediate to advanced poses.”

Beginners can modify plank pose by having the knees lowered to the floor. If the pose is too challenging hold for shorter times and do repetitions to build up strength. Baumgartner offers several tips to create more muscular engagement in plank or low plank pose.

  • Press your palms or forearms into your mat or the ground.
  • Tilt your pelvis toward your nose and keep your belly button drawing into your spine.
  • Without moving your hands or feet, pull the heels of your hands or elbows back towards your toes and at the same time pull your toes forward.
  • Squeeze your glutes to engage and lift your kneecaps to fire up your quads.

Dancer pose (Natarajasana)

The first yoga pose that gave Peloton yoga instructor Chelsea Jackson Roberts a sense of power and freedom was Dancer pose. She remembers feeling nervous about going to her first yoga class because she didn’t think she had an ideal yoga body and was experiencing some health challenges. She tells us that when she could do Natarajasana she “knew in that moment that I belong in this practice. It was a reminder that I am worthy to feel empowered and free in my body.”

Dancer pose strengthens the legs, arms, and core. It builds balance, focus, coordination, trust, and grace. The pose also provides a tremendous stretch through the quads, abdomen, shoulders, hip flexors, and arms while holding the extended leg.

Roberts’s advice for cultivating balance while practicing dancer pose is to “establish a solid foundation and prioritize that first. Think less about how deep you can go into the posture, and more about how stable you can remain throughout. In the standing foot, deliberately press into all four corners of the foot (i.e., big toe mound, the outer edge of the pinky toe, and both sides of the heel). Also, place emphasis on the grip of your hand around your ankle. Actively pulling your ankle in the opposite direction of your hand and keep that same energy as you pull your hand in the opposite direction of your ankle. Notice the places that feel unstable and acknowledge the amount of strength needed in the standing ankle as you balance. For me, simply acknowledging all of the components of the posture support me as I lift the leg even higher. The goal is stability.”

Beginner yogis and the flexibility challenged can use a yoga strap around the ankle of the extended leg to hold on to. Roberts also recommends giving the pose a try beginning in table top in order to feel the shape of the pose with the leg extended. She also recommends to be “patient and have fun. If you fall out, don’t take it to so seriously in a way that is critical of your body or ability. This is a practice, so I recommend that you enjoy the journey and all of the experiences along the way to the destination. Think less about the depth of the posture and more about the stability. In other words, don’t be discouraged if your leg may not extend as high as you would like. It is more about the foundation and building balance and strength in the process than it is to kick the leg up as high as possible.”

Extended Hand to Big Toe pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)

Extended Hand to Big Toe pose is one of the more challenging standing balancing poses yet it often makes an appearance in yoga classes. It certainly isn’t a pose to jump right into, especially if you are a beginner. Thankfully there are several stages of engagement and a variety of ways to explore it. This is a powerful pose to improve balance so even though it is challenging it is worth working on.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana requires a strong will, a concentrated presence, and unwavering attention. In addition to sustained focus, Alexandra DeSiato, author of Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses explains that “in this pose, it’s necessary to feel grounded in your standing leg. That’s an especially tall order here because, in addition to balancing on one leg, you’ll also be moving your lifted leg—first up, and then potentially out to the side or across your body, depending on which version of the pose you’re playing with. This makes the physical benefits of the pose even greater: your standing leg gets an important workout.”

This is a powerful pose to build balance, strength, and flexibility. “Balancing (especially while also creating instability through movement) means that your glutes (all three) fire up to combat that instability,” DeSiato tells us. “The muscles of your balancing foot and ankle have to do their parts, too. Of course, balance also requires core awareness and control, and that’s especially the case here once you add in the movements of the lifted leg. There are benefits for the lifted leg, too, including increasing the flexibility and range of motion of the hamstrings and adductors. The lifted leg even gets strengthening work, too, in the hip flexors and quadriceps.”

Beyond the strengthening benefits of this asana, Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose also offers opportunities for mental and emotional strengthening. “I find this pose very clarifying because of the required focus,” says DeSiato. “I like how I find myself so much more aware of my hamstrings. I like how all parts of my body are involved, as I engage my lats and recruit my abdominal and back muscles to find the challenge of balancing. The physical shape of the pose is unapologetic and rewarding: it’s a pose that takes up space in any variation. It’s a pose of celebration, openness, and strength!”

To be successful in attempting this pose you need to be humble and kind to yourself. DeSiato explains that “this is a great pose for beginning practitioners because there are so many simple modifications and variations that keep the spirit and intention of the pose intact. New yogis can try resting the heel of their lifted leg on a chair or a bed to feel out their hamstring flexibility and begin to find their balance. Once comfortable there, they can try lifting up their extended leg a few inches—that’s fiery! Another great option is to play with Extended Hand to Shin Pose; instead of the lifted leg being straight, the knee can be bent, and the shin can be held. That variation allows for the exploration of movement, too, with the knee opening either direction.”

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