With so many yoga #selfies out there, it’s incredible to know that so many women (and men) are tackling some of the most challenging poses in the book – the arm balances. Shot often with incredible lighting and awe-inspiring views, the majesty of sitting on your hands with your rear in the air is something to behold and, for many of us, covet. I personally love arm balances and any home practice I do, I ensure that I hit at least two if not more throughout any given sequence. They’re fun, they’re challenging, they’re goal centered, they’re strengthening, and they look super awesome. But, like anything on the mat or in life, there is a danger in practicing these poses that must be appreciated and understood so we can work safely – emotionally, spiritually and physically – within the context of these postures. Here are my top tricks when thinking about practicing any arm balance that will ensure you get the most out of the pose, even if your butt never makes it off the ground.
Arm Balances do not make you ‘more yogi’. We often associate the most challenging poses and arm balances with those really deeply committed yogis – as if balancing on your arms can make you more aware and more connected in and of itself. While exploring these postures, we have a tendency to rush, to push beyond our limits and to compete – this is not self-awareness and therefore, it’s not yoga. Honoring where you are is the biggest offering that there is in an arm balance – allowing them to humble us, to slow us down, and to challenge us without anger, frustration or judgement is a HUGE undertaking. If getting on your hands has never felt safe and you do not honestly feel it’s in your personal best interest to explore it – honoring that truth and coming back to a pose that challenges you and inspires you is a true yogic practice. Be true.
Arm Balances are fun. Pure and simple. While there are obvious physical benefits in an arm balance, the main reality is that we practice arm balances because it’s fun. It’s exciting and cool to be able to get into these weird and impressive shapes. The muscle tone that you develop in crow is the same you develop in chaturanga – it’s just a different expression, so though it’s powerful, it’s not doing something a more grounded pose cannot do. If you’re not having fun in your arm balance, rethink why and how you’re doing it. Maybe even talk to your instructor. These poses may bring up a lot of shadows – fear, doubt, lack of self-trust – and any number or combination of psychological barriers and judgements can prevent you from really exploring the posture. Time after time, I hear “I can’t” muttered over an arm balance – and that leads to frustration and judgement. Knowing that it’s the play that is the point, not the leg in the air, will help get you out of your way. Who knows, maybe you can… Being willing to go into a conversation with your self-doubt and explore what it is that’s holding you back is a blessing because the odds are, it’s impacting other parts of your life. A good instructor will be there with you to unravel the knots.
Arm Balances are, for lack of a better word, dangerous. With all the weight and pressure going into your hands and shoulders, we can do some serious damage if we’re not careful. Seeing some postures exploding on the internet and social media is sometimes horrifying. If you’re going to do an arm balance – or any yoga posture – taking care of your body so you are safe is incredibly important. Generally speaking – there are four things we ignore that put us in the danger zone. Next time you head into bakasana, I implore you to think about the following.
- Foundation – always ensure that your hands are firmly planted and that the index fingers are pointing straight ahead. Pressure needs to stay out of the wrist and we achieve that by pressing down firmly with the knuckle mound under the index finger and the thumb and then grip the earth with your fingertips. If your thumb and index fingers come off the ground, your wrist is shot…. this is essential any time your hands are on the ground but critical in an arm balance.
- Draw in – no matter which posture you’re climbing into, engagement through the center of the body is going to keep you up. You absolutely must draw your low belly in and firm the entire body toward the center line. If any single part of your body isn’t firing, you then support that dead weight on your hands. Not easy. Engage everything!
- Shoulders – this is where we really get hurt – we don’t allow for space to open in the chest and our shoulders round forward, dumping all of our weight into the joint. That is not what they’re built for and definitely not sustainable. Whenever you head in, think of drawing the shoulder blades back and down toward your site bone, reach your sternum forward and keep the shoulders lifted. If they drop down below your elbows (in most poses) they’re too far down and in danger. This takes practice, but because it’s safe, you’ll be able to!
- Feet – the moment your feet stop working is the moment you gain 50 pounds… serious – dead feet KILL arm balances. Without activation in the feet, our legs cannot be fully engaged, so now they’re also dead weight.. and they’re heavy! So floint the foot – meaning point through the foot and dorsiflex the toes or pull the toes up. This engagement will keep you hands down, ass up..
All that said – arm balances are a blast and among my favorite things to practice. They’re an awesome reflection on persistence and stability – something that I personally find hard to consistently cultivate. Don’t be afraid to place your hands on the earth and feel what it’s like to walk on air – allow yourself the liberation while keeping yourself safe and honest.
To be willing to fly, you must learn how to fall. You must practice laughing at the topple and the wobble, shake it off and try again. You must fall in love with the process of becoming – which is equal parts success and failure. If you’re interested in learning more about arm balances, please get in touch – I’d love to share some of my favorites.
Hands down – Asses Up- That’s the way we like to YOGA!
See you on the mat!