Fusing the BOSU® Balance Trainer into Yoga


by: Shannon Fable

Yoga continues to increase in popularity throughout the country. Most instructors answer the demand by incorporating yoga-inspired poses into workouts. Of course, nothing can replace the extensive training required for proper yoga practice. However, the strengthening, stretching and relaxation benefits of simple yoga poses can be enjoyed within a wide variety of exercises if certain precautions are taken to ensure safety.

The BOSU® Balance Trainer (BT) is a versatile tool that assists clients in achieving correct positioning for yoga postures. Simultaneously, the BT also creates significant challenges in specific poses for more advanced participants.

Several benefits exist when incorporating the BT into yoga practice:

  • Increased balance challenge
  • Increased opportunity for integrated movement
  • Potential increase in physical intensity
  • Comfortable or assistive platform for executing specific exercises

Increased Balance Challenge
Yoga enhances balance through correct execution of postures. The BT increases balance challenge by placing the hands, feet, or knees on an unstable surface during postures. Caution should be exercised when deciding if it is appropriate to increase the balance challenge based on individual client skill level. For example, Mountain Pose on the BT (both feet standing on top of the dome, static posture) would be appropriate for nearly all skill levels. But, Side Plank on the BT (one hand on the top of the dome, feet on the floor) may NOT be appropriate for all clients. Keep in mind, even simple poses moved onto the BT will be challenging, as yoga is performed barefoot, which increases stimulation to the central nervous system. Increased stimulation results in increased muscle activity. Use the "Balance Challenge Variables" to keep the posture challenging, yet doable, for all participants (Balance Challenge Variables: contact points, visual effect, movement and external stimulus).

Increased Opportunity for Integrated Movement
Yoga postures are often linked together with breath creating a flow. If the BT is introduced to a flow series, there are many opportunities to move on and off the dome to stimulate several parts of the kinetic chain in a shorter period of time. The body will learn to work as a unit as it readjusts to the unstable surface, combined with the shifting of the center of gravity during movements. Consider experimenting with a modified Sun Salutation, either dome side up (to provide support, assist in alignment) or down (increased balance, strength challenge) for a full body balance challenge.

Potential Increase in Physical Intensity
The core musculature automatically engages when using the BT in yoga postures. In an effort to balance while standing, sitting or kneeling on the BT, regardless of a client's ability to consciously tap into the core, the body must self-correct to stay on the dome. The learned response eventually transfers into everyday life. Because the body "fights" to stay on the dome, many more muscles might have the opportunity to "play for the day," increasing the effort needed for the exercise. The best aspect of the exercise is the challenge. Although harder, it is fun leading all types of participants to take the bait and find success.

Comfortable or Assistive Platform for Executing Specific Exercises
Many tools are offered to yoga participants such as blocks, straps and bolsters. The BT can be added to this list of assistive props. The soft, dome side of the BT provides cushioning for the knees, hands and spine. The curvature of the dome offers comfortable positioning of the wrist in several postures. Most importantly, the height of the dome allows "room" for many poses to be executed. For example, the front foot in Warrior I positioned on top of the dome allows for alignment of the hips. Also, sitting on top of the dome for Seated Forward Fold provides comfort for participants with tight hamstrings. Pigeon Pose, which is a very challenging pose for tight hips and/or knee issues, might be more doable when the bent front leg is draped around the front of the dome (hips on top of the dome).

Of course, there is a proper way to safely utilize the BT with nearly every yoga posture. First, decide if the goal is to increase the challenge of the pose, or to make the posture attainable for a wide variety of participants. The easiest place to position the dome is under the feet, hands, hips or knees.

Take into account the following three points when choosing to use (or not to use) the BT:
1. Hip, Knee and Ankle Alignment - If the alignment of the hip, knee and ankle are compromised due to the position of the BT, consider placing a different part of the body on the BT, or move the exercise to the floor. Many times, the BT helps with alignment, but depending on the ability of the participant, this may not always be the case.

2. Foot Fatigue - Frequently change the body part(s) that are in contact with the BT to eliminate foot fatigue. Keep in mind that balance training when barefoot requires heightened recruitment through the lower leg complex which may cause discomfort for participants. Plan and cue accordingly.

3. Common Sense - Only use the BT when it makes sense-for the flow of the class and the ability level of participants. Offer several options for the diverse group taught. Avoid feeling compelled to use it just because it was pulled out for class.

Spending just a few moments experimenting to combine the BT and yoga postures will expand your repertoire. Whether looking for new challenges or assistance for participants, the BT is the perfect addition to set your yoga practice apart.

Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Downward Facing Dog, Dome Side Down
With dome side down, the participant feels a balance challenge from the upper body. Tilting the edge of the dome into the floor helps establish the proper "bracing" in the shoulder girdle to achieve proper form.
Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Downward Facing Dog, Dome Side Up
With the dome side up, and hands positioned "downhill" on the edge of the dome, the wrists are supported, but in a less flexed position which allows comfort for many with wrist issues. A balance challenge in the upper body still exists with hands placed on an unstable surface.
Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Extended Side Angle
With the front foot positioned on top of the dome, more space is created in order to achieve proper positioning, especially if the participant is limited by hamstrings or hip tightness. Also, performing a fully extended side angle with one arm reaching toward the dome is easier when the "floor" is elevated by the dome.
Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Supported Runners Lunge
With dome side down, the front leg moves to the outside of the dome and hands are positioned on top of the BT for support. The hand positioning is ideal for participants with tight hips and hamstrings, and helps facilitate the open chest posture desired.
Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Supported Runners Lunge with Rotation
From the traditional Supported Runners Lunge, move the outside hand into the middle of the dome and rotate toward the front thigh. The height of the dome/hand placement allows more participants to achieve this otherwise challenging twist posture. Furthermore, the hand on the unstable surface provides a balance challenge.
Fusing BOSU into Yoga
Warrior I Alternative
The traditional teaching of Warrior I (front heel lined up to intersect the arch of the back foot, and hips square) is nearly impossible for most participants. Or, if the feet are lined up and hips are square, the range of motion is compromised. This limits the strength from the movement, and the knee can be loaded with excessive forces/strain. The most obvious solution is to move the back foot out slightly. However, with the front foot elevated on top of the dome, more participants can achieve the pose minus pain and without sacrificing the angle of the front knee.

Shannon Fable, 2006 ACE Group Fitness Instructor of the Year & 2009 Top 3 Finalist for IDEA Instructor of the Year, is the founder and CEO of Sunshine Fitness Resources and the owner of Balletone. Shannon is an international presenter, program developer and Master Trainer for several well known companies including the Nautilus Institute, ACE, BOSU, and Power Systems. Additionally, Fable consults for fitness professionals on a wide variety of subjects covering career development in the fitness industry. www.shannonfable.com

Special thanks to model, Ashley Zeeb. Ashley is a yoga instructor in Boulder, CO.

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