Namaste, Katie —
After I injured myself this winter, my doctor recommended that I work on my balance. I am hoping that I can do this through my yoga practice. My concern is, balance poses look acrobatic, and I worry that I could injure myself further. Any suggestions?
Dennis, Ann Arbor
Yes, balance poses can appear challenging, and at times they are. Balance is also one of the most important things that we can work on for our long-term health. Balance is part of nearly every activity we do, and developing your ability can prevent falls and injury. Yoga offers a safe space to work on building your sense of balance. The next time you go to your studio, let your instructor know that this is something you would like to focus on. Yoga offers multiple levels to work on balance. There are even postures of balance that start on hands and knees.
Most recognizable balance postures are standing, and a great posture to start with is Vriksasana, Tree Pose. You can move into it incrementally, so that you can find that “just-right” space to work on balance in a safe way. To move into Tree Pose, ground both feet firmly into the floor, keeping the knees soft (we want to avoid locking the joints). Engage the gluteus muscles around the hip so that the hip is strong and secure. Slowly begin to peel the right foot off the floor seeing how the shift in the balance feels.
If needed, keep the toes on the ground and breathe in this space. With the toes on the ground, rotate the knee away from the body to whatever degree feels good. Hands can find the hips or heart center, or float overhead. When it feels like a good time to advance our Vriksasana, perhaps the whole foot floats off the mat and finds the inside of the calf or thigh. Avoid placing the foot on the knee as we want to keep the joints safe.
The great thing about balance is that it can be practiced anywhere! While brushing our teeth, in line at the grocery store (we can use the cart to support the movement). Even taking a few minutes to breathe in a balance posture each day can improve our ability to feel comfortable in the moment. Feel better, and balanced!
Namaste, Katie —
At our daughter’s preschool, they do yoga several times a week, and she loves it! She tells us the names and makes animal noises with the poses, and we do them together as a family regularly. One that we are confused by is not a posture, it is Bee Breathing. She covers her eyes, giggles, and buzzes like a bee. We love it, and, naturally, would like to know more!
Jessica and Darren, Dexter
Dear Jessica and Darren,
This is so exciting! One of my dear friend’s little guy is learning yoga at age two, and I am so glad that your daughter is learning pranayama practices. Bhramari Breath, Bee Breath, is a wonderful breath practice that assists with immunity, mental clarity, agitation, and anxiety. It is a practice for soothing people of all ages, and I can see how it would speak to children.
To practice Bhramari Breath, close your eyes and breathe in and out through the nostrils. Place your hands gently over your eyes with your thumbs over your ears. When ready, also plug your ears. Take a nice long inhale, close off the ears, and with the exhale, make a humming sound. Internally, you will hear that buzzing sound, like that of the bee.
This breath and humming sound is an excellent way to quiet the mind. Quick tip, if on the first time you try this practice you laugh like your daughter, it is okay. This is not something that adults normally do. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, my guess is, you will enjoy it!
Namaste, Katie —
Please help me settle a bet with my better half! We are involved in a plank challenge (I have no idea how this started) and she tells me that my planks need to be straight armed, which is how she often holds it in yoga class. At my gym, the challenge is with forearms on the ground, fingers interlaced. Who’s right?!
Ivan (and Lisa), Ann Arbor
Dear Ivan and Lisa,
I love a good bet, and I am sorry to say, you are both right, and you are BOTH winners. Phalakasana (High Plank) with arms extended is often used in yoga classes as a transition into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff), though holds can be beneficial to find form and strengthen the body. Forearm plank is often used as a transition into Dolphin Pose.
Some people find one set-up more challenging, and it often has more to do with body structure than it does strength. Both postures are challenging and use major muscles groups: core, back, glutes, quad, hamstrings, and, of course, shoulders and arms. There are very few poses that give you more bang for your buck than a plank, whether you are on your forearms or palms of the hands.
Either way that you choose, alignment is important to prevent injury. Check that the spine is long and doesn’t dip toward the floor or push up toward the sky. The shoulder blades should move down the back rather than toward the ears. Lift up through the shoulders rather than sinking onto them. See if you can feel a line of energy from the crown of the head through the heels and keep that line strong, rather than letting it droop. Whether you are on the palms of the hands or your forearms, keep that core engaged, and best of luck in the challenge.
Katie Hoener is an RYT 500, receiving her 200 and 500 hour trainings. She is also a Licensed Master Social Worker. She is a partner at Verapose Yoga in Dexter (www.veraposeyoga.com). Please send in your own yoga questions to Katie@veraposeyoga.com.