The standing leg wabbles, the shoulders hike up, the spine waves this way and that, and the usually solid-as-an-oak Tree becomes something resembling a freshly-planted sapling caught in its very first hurricane. The pose doesn't seem to care about the fact it has already been mastered hundreds of times and the Tree seems perilously close to being uprooted and toppling over. What is balance and how does one become proficient at balance poses? What causes the loss of balance and how does one regain it once it is thrown off?
Inner ear and neuroligical disorders can affect the body's ability to maintain balance. For the healthy body, achieving and maintaining balance combines muscular training and focus. Strength and flexibility of the limbs are necessary, of course. But at the core of all balance poses is ...well... the core. However, in this case the core is somewhat deeper than the abdominal wall. It is that center line which travels from the top of the head to the bottom of the spine. Physically speaking, the abdominal wall is the muscle group which is most supportive of this line. A pulling in of all muscles to this center line while elongating it, is at the root of all balance poses. In addition, all muscles must be tight but not tense and all must be fully extended. However, even the most powerful core, arms, and legs will not be sufficient for the balance pose.
Balance poses require an extra dose of focus. As the body moves from rest into the position, the mind must be aware of every muscle twitch, every slight change in the equilibrium. Just as the slightest touch will throw off a perfectly balanced spinning top, so will the body lose balance at even the lightest over-adjustment. It is a high level of control over the body, to decide which muscles to engage, which to let go, which to pull in, which to reach out. In theory all practice should involve absolute focus on the present. In actuality, day dreaming has been known to happen...even on the Yoga mat. Once the goal is reached, the brain wants to move on and often times it can and does just that. One can still flow through the Sun Salutation and space out even if for just a little bit. Not so with the balance poses.
Assuming static poses, maintaining balance requires a different type of focus. The mind must keep the same muscular contraction in the body. The gaze must be held and the rest of the concentration must be placed on the center line which may be visualized as an actual, vibrating string. Depending on the body, it may be straight and tight, loose or slack, squiggly with erratic vibrations, or humming uniformly. An educated guess may lead one to the conclusion that using the mind to create a vibrating line in a such a way that it appears long, straight, and non-moving, would make for a more stable balance pose. The string is a visualization aid, focus may also be on the breath, but ultimately it must be directed inward.
Movement of any kind can cause loss of balance. Moving the eyes upsets the balance; conscious eye movement can be used to create an even deeper level of focus. So does moving any part of the body. But conscious body movement can also be used to sharpen focus. However, movement of the mind away from the center always leads to loss of balance. This departure can not be used to deepen the practice. No matter what, the moment the mind strays from the present, it all falls apart.
Regain balance - come back soon.