When you flip through the yoga playbook, most routines—if not all—include a balance challenge. “That’s because balance is the essence of yoga,” says Ariel Kiley, certified yoga instructor and lead trainer of Daily Burn’s Yoga Fundamentals program. “Fundamentally, yoga is learning how to go off balance to find balance again,” Kiley explains.
But even if nailing the bird of paradise or eagle pose isn’t your goal, finding balance is key to moving better and feeling centered in your day-to-day. Plus, it can make you a stronger and fitter runner, weightlifter and all-around athlete. “If you’re balanced structurally, then you have sound posture. Posture says a lot about how efficiently you’re using your body,” she says.
Read on for Kiley’s top three yoga poses for better balance, strength and mobility.
Find Balance with These 3 Beginner Yoga Poses
Think tree pose is a little too advanced? Worry not! These poses from the Yoga Fundamentals program focus on bringing more awareness to your feet — the first lesson in balance. “Your feet are designed to articulate movement in all kinds of ways, but we spend so much time in shoes that we limit their range of motion,” Kiley says. Aim to hold each of the following poses for three to five breaths.
1. Sole Stretch
Balance starts on the soles of your feet, and this pose is a great way to enhance the extension of your toes while stretching the plantar fascia. “By stretching and awakening your soles, you’re going to improve balance and agility as you walk, run and dance,” Kiley says.
How to: Get into tabletop position on your hands and knees (a). Tuck your toes under and walk your hands back towards your heels. Push your fingertips into the floor to lift your knees off the mat (b). Place two yoga blocks under your knees and sit upright on your heels (c). If this feels uncomfortable on your knees, sit on your heels and keep your fingertips tented to the floor in front of you (d).
2. Albatross Pose
Kiley likes to think of this yoga pose as a bird about to take flight, or in exercise terms, a hip hinge. The albatross is good prep for the Warrior poses and other standing poses that involve balanced legs because it encourages even distribution of weight. “Albatross awakens and fortifies the musculature of your back, legs and shoulders to train your body to regain its open, upright potential,” Kiley says.
How to: Stand with your feet in a wide straddle and feet parallel (a). Spread your arms wide into a big “T” with your palms facing forward (b). Unlock your knees, engage your glutes and core, and actively pull your legs towards your midline as you hinge forward at the hips. Keep your head level so your neck is a smooth continuation of your spine (c). Stretch your arms wide to the sides like a bird (d).
3. Single-Leg Balance
A great progression from mountain pose, the single-leg balance helps you access what Kiley calls your “plum-line” or central axis. “When you feel connected to your center in this way, any number of other off-balance poses become more possible,” she says. For true beginners, Kiley recommends stepping your lifted toes onto a yoga block for a few breaths before hiking your knee up to your hands.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-distance apart in mountain pose with equal weight on each foot (a). Begin to shift your weight onto your left foot and lift your right leg up (b). Interlace your hands around your right knee, point your right foot and pull the knee towards the ceiling (c). Firm up your standing leg by drilling the heel down into the mat, and draw your chin in slightly. Aim to create a straight line from your left heel to the crown of your head (e). Repeat on the right foot after a few breaths.