These tips for balancing will make challenging poses easier when you're first learning yoga.
Since it sounds like you have been "just doing it" and are still having difficulty, let's use Tree Pose to address how to develop your one-legged balancing pose in gradual steps.
Begin by standing solidly on both feet. Press the crown of your head up towards the ceiling and pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine. Draw your shoulders down and away from your ears. Anchor your gaze (drishti) softly on one spot on the floor or wall in front of you. Experiment to find the focal point that makes you feel most stable. Establish a smooth flowing Ujjayi breath.
Next, focus on grounding and steadying the body. Shift your weight onto the left leg and into the left foot. Then, lift the crown of your head up towards the ceiling. Gently draw the abdominal muscles in towards the spine, pointing the coccyx (tailbone) straight down toward the left heel. Lift the sternum.
When you are ready to take it up a notch, place the sole of your right foot next to your left ankle, keeping just a hint of weight on the right big toe and opening the bent right knee out to the side. Practice this until you feel confident here. Then draw the sole of your right foot up as high as possible on your inner left thigh. Press your foot and thigh into each other.
You can hold the raised foot in position with your right hand, extending the left arm out to the side at shoulder height. Or you can bring your hands directly into prayer position (Namaste) in front of your heart. Steady the eyes, breathe, and relax the mind. If you fall out, don't judge yourself. Invoke the "so what" attitude, refocus your gaze, ground yourself, and simply do it again.
If weak ankles, legs, or abdominal muscles are keeping you from balancing, building muscle tone will be very helpful in the long run. Standing postures such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose) and Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) develop leg strength.
You can also work on core strength, stability, and spinal extension, in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), standing on the toes or on one foot. The key here, as in all basic balancing poses, is to be grounded in your feet and legs, steady and soft in your eye gaze and breath, engaged in your abdominals, and extended through the spine and neck.
Breathing in, rise up on your toes; breathing out, lower down. Gradually increase the time it takes you to breathe in and out so that you increase the time you are balancing up on your toes. When you are strong in this exercise, add single, alternate arm raises coordinated with your inhalation and exhalation and rising up and lowering down. Finally, do the exercise raising both arms at the same time.
To practice balancing on one foot in Tadasana, start by engaging the same alignment and focusing principles already described for balancing on two feet. Shift your weight over onto the right leg. Imagine the weight of your body melting down into your foot, going deep into the floor. Imagine your foot growing much much longer and wider, the force of gravity anchoring your stance. When you are ready, inhale and lift your left foot one inch off the floor. Pause. Exhaling, set it down. Repeat until that feels easy.
Then continue, lifting your foot a little higher, developing confidence and skill in small increments. When you wobble, check in and reestablish the alignment and focusing directions. If you fall out, so what! Take a full inhalation and a long exhalation, then start again. Be persistent. You'll get there and the world of balancing poses will open up to you. Don't be surprised if greater focus, concentration, and balance show up in other areas of your life we well.
About our writer
Sudha Carolyn Lundeen is certified as an Advanced Kripalu Yoga Instructor, Holistic Health Nurse, and Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She is the former Director of Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association, has been leading programs on yoga, health, and healing for over 20 years, and is a senior faculty member at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. She offers private yoga coaching and specializes in helping women navigate the experience of breast cancer.