Yoga is a great way to connect with your body. It allows you to work on your strength, flexibility, suppleness, and coordination. But, imagine if there were a way to ramp up those benefits beyond what a conventional yoga session offered - and all you had to do was to change the surface that you were standing on.
Welcome to the world of balance training for yoga.
Last summer saw paddle board yoga establish itself as the hottest workout around. The only downside was the relatively high likelihood of face planting the water. And, of course, paddle board yoga in the throes of winter was never going to catch on.
Balance board training overcomes both of those dilemmas by providing an unstable surface to perform traditional yoga moves right in the comfort of your home.
6 Yoga Balance Board Benefits
Yoga is as smart move for balance and coordination training. Here are a half dozen reasons why combining yoga training with balance board training makes for the perfectly balanced workout.
1. It provides a more challenging workout
Yoga moves are difficult enough, but when you do them on an unstable platform, such as a balance board, they become infinitely more difficult. Your muscles will be having to constantly work in order to keep your body balanced as the board moves from side to side. You will be using your core a lot more on every move just to keep the torso upright.
2. It causes you to improve your yoga technique
Every move that you make on the balance board must be carefully considered, and slowly executed. This will force you to slow down, mentally rehearse every action, and perform it with greater precision.
You will have to evenly balance your body when performing exercises on the balance board. When performing the downward dog on your exercise mat, for example, you can be unevenly weighted without any adverse effect. On the balance board, however, you are likely to take a tumble unless your weight is evenly distributed. While this may cause frustration at first, it will make you a better yoga practitioner.
3. It will help you to develop mindfulness
The ability to be ‘in the moment’ is vital to a successful workout, whether you are lifting weights, doing Pilates or performing yoga. Yet, many people find this a tremendous challenge. Their mind wanders and they end up simply going through the motions of their workout. When you’re on a balance board, however, a wandering mind will have an immediate impact - as in the body crashing to the floor!
Performing yoga on a balance board enhances the mind-body connection. You are constantly processing neurological feedback from your muscles and making adjustments in order to maintain your balance and coordination. You don’t have any time to think about what’s for dinner. All of this helps you to get into the state of mindfulness that is desired in yoga. You will be able to concentrate, not just on your muscles, but also on your breath.
4. It provides you with a fantastic core workout
The core is the center of your body. It is the wellspring from which all of your power emanates. The more it can be activated the better.
When you are standing on an exercise mat, your core doesn’t have to do very much. But when you step up onto a balance board, it’s a whole different story. Suddenly, the core is being called upon to react to the changes in body position caused by the imbalance of the board. The intercostals, abdominals and infraspinatus have to make subtle changes in angle to adjust to these demands.
As a result of the balance challenges presented, while you’re doing your yoga moves, your core will be constantly engaged on the board. This will make it stronger, not just in the front abdominals, but also around the back where your erector spinae are located. As a result, you will suffer less frequent lower back complications.
5. It will make you stronger
Strength development is integral to good yoga practice. Often, yoga relies on many of the smaller muscles that are neglected in your traditional resistance-based strength development program. Balance training, however, will work these muscles. Often the small stabilizer muscles that work in concert with your ‘star’ muscles (chest, back, thighs) are the difference between success and failure on a lift.
When you train on a Balance Board, the small stabilizer muscles come into play immediately. The imbalance of your position forces them to contract in order to help get you balanced. At the same time, your larger muscles are having to work to keep you stable. When you are exercising on a flat surface, such as the ground, these muscles are not called into play.
6. Holding a pose is harder
Many yoga poses test your body’s ability to function as a whole by holding a pose for an extended period of time. Doing the same move on a balance board makes it many times more difficult, as you have to constantly make micro adjustments to accommodate for the imbalance of the platform. This gives you much more bang for your buck, allowing you to get more benefit from less training time.
Who Should Try Balance Board Yoga?
We don’t recommend trying yoga training on a balance board until you’ve got a few months of conventional mat-based training under your belt. You need to get to grips with the basic moves such as the mountain pose, downward dog, and crescent moon pose before you can try the unstable version of these poses.
Yoga requires you to be doing a number of things constantly in order to maintain good form. You need to spread your toes and fingers wide, maintain an even breathing tempo and push evenly into the floor. If you are having to consciously think about these things while also engaging your brain every second to coordinate your balance, you will crash and burn.
For these reasons, we suggest that you have at least six months of yoga experience behind you before you attempt a yoga balance board session.
How Does Yoga Balance Board Training Feel?
Yoga Balance board training is hard. You will feel unsteady and unsure at first and shaky all the time. This will put your body on constant alert, so you will have no time to relax while getting used to the board.
Of course, relaxing is all part of the yoga experience. Eventually, you will be able to take your mind off the balance focus. This is because of the process of proprioception, by which the body trains itself to react instinctively to its balance and coordination requirements. When your proprioception is heightened, you will not only be able to yoga balance more calmly, you will also become a better reactor to situations that arise in your daily life.
According to the inventor of the Indo Yoga Board, which is one of the world’s most popular yoga balance boards, Hunter Joslin, doing yoga on a balance board “forces you to be perfect.” If you don’t perform the poses correctly, the board will let you know by tipping over so that the edges touch the floor.
According to certified Yoga Balance Board trainer Michelle Gierst, yoga balance training has a great flow on effect for people who are into water sports, such as padded boarding and surfing: “Balance board training makes you really think about where you put your foot or your hand, just like with a surf or paddle board. Let’s say you live back in New York and can’t get to the beach — this is perfect to continue practicing on.”
Where Can I Find a Yoga Balance Class?
YogaFit, the world’s largest yoga training organization, is producing certified yoga balance instructors through their certification program. As more graduates emerge, the number of classes offering balance sessions will increase. Right now, there are a limited number of yoga training studios that offer balance classes. Classes generally cost $20-30 for a 90-minute session.
To find the nearest yoga balance class to you, check YogaClassNearYou.
What is the Best Yoga Balance Board? The Indo Yoga Board
The Indo Yoga Board was inspired by the Stand Up Paddle (SUP) craze which recently swept through the yoga community. Here’s Hunter Joslin, founder of the IndoBoard: "I figured if there’s so many people that like Stand Up Paddle, how many of them would like to have that experience in a studio setting. So, I designed a board that takes stand up paddle yoga out of the water and into the yoga studio."
The board comprises a 70” long by 16” wide hardwood deck that has four rockers attached to the underside. This provides the instability to truly challenge even the most experienced yogi. In fact, the instability that results is very similar to what you would get when standing on a paddle board in the water.
The Indo Yoga Board comes in two versions. The first features a traditional hardwood platform while the other has a layer of cork, which is applied to the deck. This provides a non-slip surface while giving a cushioned foot platform. To provide progression once you become accustomed to the Indo Yoga workout, Indo also offers as accessories their patented IndoFlo cushions. These can be stacked under the board to elevate the floor distance and provide an even greater level of instability.
Here is a comment from a first-time user: I think it’s amazing. It’s a great tool. If you don’t have time to go out on the water, you can take this home and it will be perfect. . . It teaches you where you are unstable and what parts of your body don’t want to work as much. It gets you to activate them a whole lot more. It’s definitely an amazing tool.
The Indo Yoga Boards are available from Amazon, or directly from the IndoBoard website. They retail for between $300 and $500.
Alternatively, you can try yoga balance board training with a more traditional balance board, which is a cheaper option.
The use of a balance board takes yoga training to a new level of challenge and effectiveness. Balance training builds on the huge popularity and benefits of Stand Up Paddle Yoga training. It offers all of the plusses of SUP yoga without the hassle of having to get yourself out on the water (or ending up in it). While it’s not ideally suited for people who are new to yoga, more seasoned yogi will find that balance board training provides them with the extra challenge - both mentally and physically - to take their yoga to new heights.
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