This new series of blog posts features tips and tricks by teachers and students, each of whom has mastered a specific posture in the Bikram Yoga series! Think of it as an “insider’s guide” to doing the poses – each week you’ll learn something new that will help you advance your own practice!
Posture: Balancing Stick (Tulandandasana)
Expert: BYV Teacher Ulrike V.
Balancing Stick requires a lot of concentration – not to mention precision of movement – to get into the pose with good alignment … and then hold it in stillness. Personally, it remains one of the most challenging poses in the Standing Series for me. I used to go into the asana very quickly and then struggled with balance, pain in my shoulders and wishing for those 10 seconds (only 10 seconds – really???) to be over! Today I’m doing things differently and going into the posture more slowly. After all, they say that the setup determines the outcome; that’s certainly true when it comes to Balancing Stick!
I’m also working on bringing my fully extended arms as far as I can behind my ears, keeping my elbows locked and my grip tight. The moment I step my balancing leg forward, I contract my quadriceps and bring more weight toward the ball of my foot (an even weight distribution, I find, helps with balancing). Once I bring my body down and my leg up, I work on keeping my hips in line from the side (I see many students’ hips winging out; I did it myself for years). By keeping my hip down, I feel a deep stretch over the backside of my balancing leg.
The core muscles are also needed in this posture; the lower abdominal muscles must be contracted. From the core, I fully extend my lifted leg back, toes pointed; the challenge here is to keep the leg pointing straight back and not off centre. I press my upper arms to my head and extend my torso forward from the core. This is the “human tug-of-war” Bikram speaks off, the equal and opposing forces. I stretch forward and extend my leg back while keeping the thigh of my balancing leg contracted and moving the weight more toward the ball of my foot (where the centre of balance is in this posture).
Oh – did I mention that I breathe? Over the years I’ve managed to learn to breathe deeply during this pose, using the exhale to extend my torso and leg away from my core.
When you’re able to incorporate all of these elements simultaneously, those “10 seconds” are actually not that long (when I practise alone I hold Balancing Stick much longer)! In terms of benefits, this posture trains us to align our bodies in space using gravity, building upper-body strength, opening the shoulder joints and toning the muscles in the shoulders, upper arms and spine. It improves hip flexibility, tones the thigh muscles, stretches the sciatic nerve and hamstrings and improves the functioning of the heart. Your lungs are stretched and your spine is extended, helping to improve poor posture.
And, while the physical body might look like a statue on the outside, nothing stays still on the inside. During Balancing Stick you must continuously re-centre internally and concentrate on all elements of the posture. This requires a lot of effort but will lead to amazing mental benefits: improved concentration, a more calm and balanced mind and greater overall awareness.