You might be forgiven for thinking that the word ‘calisthenics’ sounds rather clinical. It conjures up all sorts of images but rather than being a medical treatment or robotic body part, it’s actually a form of exercise that harnesses your own bodyweight, gravity, and resistance.
Often called a street workout, calisthenics is so much more than just some hip and trendy craze though. There’s real scientific backing, not to mention the fact that it also provides an excellent foundation for other forms of physical exercise including yoga.
That in itself might seem odd because on first appearances, the two disciplines couldn’t seem more removed from one another. Calisthenics consists of high-energy, fast-moving reps whilst yoga is often static or carried out at a much slower pace, in any case. Once you scratch the surface though, the similarity becomes more apparent, since they both use multiple muscles at the same time with a focus on building strength, power, stamina, and balance.
Why is Balance Important in Yoga?
When you’re starting your yoga journey, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain balance whilst you’re in pose, especially those more challenging ones. Instead of looking like a graceful gazelle, you end up like a wobbly rhino. Well, not exactly, but you get my point. Challenging your balance through different asanas is a good thing though, the more practise you get, the better. Aside from using our own bodyweight, balancing engages all of the body’s available balancing mechanisms.
So what body systems are important when it comes to balance? Obviously, muscles must be strong enough to support our body weight if we want to maintain balance. Not only that, but we should engage the right muscles and be able to distribute our weight evenly across them, rather than favouring one set of muscles over another. Otherwise, you end up with muscular aches and pains, poor posture and balance can be affected because you may tend to lean into certain muscle groups.
If you thought balance is just about powerful muscles though, you’d be surprised at how many other body parts are involved. For instance, we use our eyesight to anchor us to a spot and to have an awareness of where we are in relation to everything else. Think how difficult it can be to balance in poor light or with your eyes closed.
The inner ear also plays a part in maintaining balance because fluid tells the brain where the head’s located in relation to the rest of the body and how fast it’s moving. Then there’s the central nervous system which controls movement of the muscles via messages sent along nerve pathways. If any of these systems are not functioning properly, it can make balancing more difficult.
Breath is another important factor when it comes to balance. Next time you’re breathing abdominally, notice how much more your muscles relax, helping you to feel more grounded and making it easier to balance. That’s why yoga instructors focus so much of their time on the importance of breath because it can make such a difference to your practise.
How to Balance In Yoga
There are many things that you can do to improve your balance and gain stillness in yoga. Fixing your gaze on one spot can definitely help as can steady breathing. Slowing everything down rather than rushing into a pose will also help. It can even be as simple as knowing when to give a slight bend in the knee rather than locking out.
If you want to get really serious about balance though, give calisthenics a go. It consists of simple, controlled, repetitive movements that build muscle through pushing, pulling, dipping, lunging, and squatting. These serve to:
- Improve muscle mass
- Burn calories
- Strengthen the core
- Improve blood pressure
- Release dopamine
- Hone motor skills including coordination and balance
The reps that you do in calisthenics are often transferrable and easily incorporated into a yoga workout, helping to strengthen and improve poses. Lunges, for example, complement the Warrior Poses whilst the Yoga Plank can easily link into the Planche.
A combined yoga and calisthenic sequence that’s geared to improving balance might include the Mountain Pose, Tree Pose, Yoga Plank, Warrior 1, 2 and 3 as well as reps like the planche, lunges, sit ups and squats.
To balance better, you could also use a yoga block. These offer extra support to prevent wobbling, engage the muscles correctly and align joints correctly, particularly when you’re trying out more challenging yoga poses. Our vote is for the Yogi Bare Firm Foam Support Block or Yogi Bare Bamboo Support Block.
If you enjoyed this article, we think you’ll like A Guide to Calisthenics for Men.