Balancing in a yoga pose on one leg or finding the right balance between effort and ease has never been easy for me, even before the pandemic.
But having to practice my yoga at home in a small hallway has helped me to focus more on balance. There are fewer distractions (aka no opportunities to engage in “watch-asana”), a better sense of containment in a confined physical space, more ease in finding a drishti (focal point) and a greater willingness to take some risks without other eyes watching.
That being said, I still fall in and out of poses — I had a black toe and a tweaked thumb for several weeks to prove it.
Recently, though, I’ve found my new favorite yoga toy to help me find balance – a sandbag!
I had just signed up for a virtual winter solstice mini-retreat and one of the recommended props was a sandbag. While I’ve thought about purchasing a sandbag in the past for restorative poses, I ultimately decided against it because yoga prop vendors charged a fortune to ship them and the idea of buying an empty bag which I would then need to fill myself just wasn’t appealing. This time, I was more vigilant in Googling for non-traditional vendors and found a company that specialized in “shot bags” filled with 5 pounds of sand that are shipped for free (aptly named The Sandbag Store). I’ve been using my new bag in almost all my practices since it arrived.
Why do I love my sandbag? It’s inexpensive ($16), compact, easy to store, simple to use and oh so versatile. I use it in a variety of ways to achieve balance by either placing it underneath some part of my foundation or placing it on top of a body part that I want to gently relax. I’m sure I’ll find more creative ways to use my new toy as I practice more often with it, but, for now, here are some suggestions.
Stabilizing the Foundation
- In Warrior One, due to my tight calves and relative lack of ankle flexion, my back heel tends to lift up from the mat as I rotate the pelvis of my back leg forward. A sandbag under that heel provides just the right amount of assistance to allow me to ground it with less effort.
- In standing one-legged poses (e.g., tree, dancer, warrior three), I always place a finger on a nearby wall before attempting to balance. My ankles tend to fall out, and my bunions don’t allow me to ground strongly into the big toe mound. It was counter-intuitive to me at first, but putting my standing foot on a sandbag helped to take the wobble out of my foot and ankle because the sand molded to the shape of my foot.
- In lieu of a blanket, I often place the sandbag under my sit-bones in seated poses. It helps to keep my pelvis tipped forward so my lower spine can find its natural curve. I can then lengthen my torso and sit taller. And, it provides a little more feedback for my sit-bones than a blanket and is softer than a block.
Signaling the Body to Release
- In baddha konasana (butterfly or cobbler’s pose), either seated or reclined, I like to place the bag on top of my feet. By adding weight to the feet, it signals to my brain that it’s safe for the knees to relax out and sink down. I prefer this, rather than placing one bag on each of my inner thighs, which can often feel too aggressive. (But I’ve been known to do that in yoga studios in the past when I felt like I needed extra grounding.)
- In paschimottanasana (seated forward fold), I like to place the sandbag on top of my thighs to help the hamstrings relax as I move my torso forward with a straight spine. If your forward fold is fairly deep, it also offers a surface to rest your chest on.
- In reclined toe-hold pose with leg out to the side (supta padangusthasana B), the hip of my leg that’s resting on the mat tends to lift and roll as my other leg extends out to the opposite side. To counter this gently, I place the sandbag on top of my resting upper thigh. This both relaxes and energizes that leg so that the other leg can more freely explore lowering in external rotation.
- In reclined twists with bent knees, I like to place the bag between my upper thighs. This applies gentle pressure to the bottom leg so it will relax, and also gives something for the top leg to rest on. I find this gives my opposite shoulder more freedom to sink toward the mat.
- In viparita karani (legs up the wall), placing a sandbag on top of the soles of my flexed feet allows the legs to soften into the hip sockets for greater relaxation. This one is easier if you have someone else place the bag after you’ve gotten into the pose. If you’re alone, with the sandbag nearby, get into the pose, slide your feet down the wall by bending your knees, place the sandbag on your feet and carefully slide your legs back straight.
- Finally, in savasana, I find a deeper meditative state when I place the sandbag on my pelvic area – it gives me a greater feeling of safety. I used to place a folded blanket there, but the slight extra weight of the sandbag adds extra grounding.
I’m so impressed with the sandbag that I just ordered a second one, to add extra weight when I need it or to cover more surface area.
So, if you, like me, need more balance in your practice, maybe try a sandbag. If a sandbag isn’t your thing, use whatever techniques available to you to find balance on and off your mat. Yoga may technically mean “to yoke” in Sanskrit, but to me, it’s all about achieving balance.
May Louie first took yoga in college to fulfill a Phys-Ed requirement and immediately fell in love. She, unfortunately, did not continue with her practice but reconnected with it when she retired from her corporate job in 2002 and has since become a serious yoga enthusiast. After her second retirement in 2017, she completed her 200-hour RYT certification, studying with Dina Crosta, Ellen Mosko, and Jamie Segal Hanley, with a focus on alignment based flow.
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