To new practitioners arm balances may feel scary or daunting. It can seem impossible to balance your weight on your hands, and it’s true that it can be an extremely challenging task, both physically and mentally.
Physically, arm balances require core strength, arm strength and flexibility. Therefore, arm balances and working towards arm balances are extremely important for building and maintaining upper body strength, preventing degenerative diseases like Osteoporosis and gaining or maintaining flexibility.
Mentally, arm balances build determination and focus. Focus of the mind is required to come into, and STAY, in any balance, particularly those which are more difficult. When we balance on our feet or hands, it becomes a lot easier when we are able to first focus our gaze point and then our mind. It is said that when we bring our mind to single pointed focus, meditation is more likely to occur. This can happen withinin or out of our asana practice. Off the mat, focusing the mind helps us to be more productive, attentive and calm. When we are able to focus on a single task in the present moment we are less anxious and more able to operate with efficiency and ease.
Arm balances also build determination and ask us not to give up. Perhaps the first time we see someone doing an arm balance, like Bakasana (Crow pose), it seems impossible for us to learn. We may think we are too weak, too inflexible, or simply that the pose is way too hard. But if we try with consistent effort, possibly failing at times, one day chances are that we will be able to do the pose. Building determination through learning arm balances also fosters dedication to practice and encourages us not to give up in times of difficulty. Off the mat, these tools are invaluable for staying committed to our goals, help us to resist quitting in hard times and build internal strength and fire. When arm balances bring up feelings of fear and we are able to work through them we build courage and confidence.
So how do you get started in arm balances? Diving straight into difficult arm balances is probably not the best way to begin, as you might actually end up diving into the floor! Instead building up slowly is a great idea. Some postures to build core strength, arm strength and flexibility are:
Half/Full Plank Pose
The plank poses build core and upper body strength. They are fantastic for practitioners of any level to learn to engage all parts of the body at the same time.
- Start in table top position with shoulders directly over the wrists
- Walk your knees a little back from your hips
- Press into your hands, grip with your fingers and push the floor away
- Curl your tailbone towards your toes
- Broaden your shoulders, this is half plank
- For the full plank, straighten your legs without lifting your hips too high
- Pull your knee caps up and firm the back of your body
Chaturanga Dandasana/ Four Limbed Staff Pose
Chaturanga is excellent for continuing the upper body strength work from the plank. Once you feel comfortable in Chaturana you can try to lift back up into the plank position, like a push up.
- From plank slowly lower towards the floor while looking at your elbows. Do not let your shoulders dive lower than your elbows
- Keep your elbows hugged in to your side
- Keep your torso rounded without lifting your tailbone
- Broaden your chest and shoulders
- Keep pulling your knee caps up and firming the back of the body
Navasana builds strength in the core and hip flexors, both of which support and stabilize the body in arm balances.
- Sit on your bottom with your knees together and toes on the floor
- Shift your weight slightly backwards without rounding your back
- Start to lift your toes and lower legs parallel to the floor.
- Draw the thighs towards each other, lift the chest, reach your hands forwards, extend to the fingertips
- Stay here or straighten your legs
- The legs should be 45-50 degrees relative to the floor
Malasana works on deep hip flexibility and openness in the chest. Hip flexibility is required for many arm balances such as Bakasana (Crow pose) and Tittibasana (Firefly pose). Opening the chest during arm balances helps to lift the body away from the floor, and to stay tall and upright.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart, or wider, and slightly turned out
- Bend your knees and place your hands above your knees
- Stay practicing here or move your hips towards the floor, lift the heels if you need to
- Place your hands on the floor or palms in front of your chest
- Lift your chest and broaden between your shoulder blades
- Lift your lower belly
Arm balances are an incredible physical, mental and emotional journey. They build determination, focus and commitment. Remember; never give up!
Want more tips to get your Asana practice working? See our post 'Your Essential Guide to Warrior I,II & III' or to move further towards the sky grab a copy of the book 'The Complete Guide to Yoga Inversions' by Jennifer DeCurtins.