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Mastering Balance

Balance is fundamental to Yoga, and one way to gain this balance is to practice balancing postures.

Balancing postures can be the most fun and most dramatic of all the postures. Although they are relatively simple, the postures can have profound effects. In addition to improving your physical balance, the yogic balancing postures also have therapeutic applications, such as with back problems or retraining whole muscle groups.

The following postures will all improve your overall balance and stability. They appear in order of easier to more advanced. If you try the postures individually rather than as part of a sequence, you hold each posture for 6 to 8 breaths. Breathe freely through the nose and pause briefly after inhalation and exhalation.

Warrior at the Wall

This posture strengthens the legs, arms, and shoulders and stretches the thighs and the hips. As with the other one-leg balancing poses, this posture enhances focus and concentration.

1. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart, facing a blank wall about three feet away.

2. As you exhale, bend forward from the hips and extend your arms forward until your fingertips are touching the wall.

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Adjust yourself so that your legs are perpendicular and your torso and arms are parallel with the floor.

3. As you inhale, raise your left leg back and up until it's parallel to the floor.

4. Stay in Step 3 for 6 to 8 breaths; then repeat with the opposite leg.

Balancing Cat

This strengthens the muscles along the spine, the arms, and the shoulders, and it opens the hips. The posture also enhances focus and concentration and also builds confidence.

1. Beginning on your hands and knees, position your hands directly under your shoulders, palms spread on the floor, with your knees directly under your hips.

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Straighten your arms, but don't lock your elbows.

2. As you exhale, slide your right hand forward and your left leg back, keeping your hand and your toes on the floor.

3. As you inhale, raise your right arm and left leg to a comfortable height, or as high as is possible for you.

4. Stay in Step 3 for 6 to 8 breaths, and then repeat with opposite pairs (left arm and right leg).

The Tree

The tree posture strengthens the legs, arms, and shoulders, and relaxes and loosens up the hips and groin. The posture, like the other one-leg balancing poses, enhances focus and concentration and produces a calming effect on the body and mind.

1. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart.

2. As you exhale, bend your left knee and place the sole of your left foot, toes pointing down, on the inside of your right leg between your knee and your groin.

3. As you inhale, bring your arms over your head and join your palms together.

4. Soften the arms and focus on a spot 6 to 8 feet in front of you on the floor.

5. Stay in Step 4 for 6 to 8 breaths and then repeat with the opposite leg.

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In the classical version of this posture, the arms are straight and the chin rests on the chest.

The Karate Kid

The karate kid strengthens the legs, arms and shoulders, and opens the hips. As with the other one-leg balancing postures, the karate kid enhances focus and concentration.

1. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart.

2. As you inhale, raise your arms out to the sides parallel to the line of your shoulders (and the floor) so that they form a "T" with the torso.

3. Steady yourself and focus on a spot on the floor 10 to 12 feet in front of you.

4. As you exhale, bend your left knee, raising it toward your chest.

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Keep your right leg straight.

5. Stay in Step 4 for 6 to 8 breaths; then repeat with the right knee.

Standing Heel-to-Buttock

This posture strengthens the legs, arms, and shoulders, and stretches the thighs.

1. Stand tall with your feet hip width apart.

2. As you inhale, raise your right arm forward and overhead.

3. Steady yourself and focus on a spot on the floor 10 to 12 feet in front of you.

4. As you exhale, bend your left knee and bring your left heel toward the left buttock, keeping the right leg straight.

Grasp the left ankle with the left hand.

5. Stay in Step 4 for 6 to 8 breaths; then repeat with the right foot.

Scorpion

The scorpion posture strengthens the shoulders, improves the flexibility of the hips, legs, and shoulders.

1. While on your hands and knees, place your hands directly under your shoulders, palms spread on the floor, and knees directly under your hips.

Straighten your arms, but don't lock your elbows.

2. Place your right forearm on the floor, right hand just behind the left wrist.

Reach behind you with your left hand, twisting the torso slightly to the left, and grab your right ankle.

3. As you inhale, lift your right knee off the floor, raise your chest until it is parallel to the floor, and look up.

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Find a comfortable height for your chest and raised leg, Steady yourself by pressing your right forearm and thumb on the floor.

4. Stay in Step 3 for 6 to 8 breaths, and then repeat on the opposite side (left forearm and left foot).

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