Taking flight in arm balances during a yoga practice can be quite exhilarating! In fact, a lot of students feel inspired by the idea of growing to be able to find balance on their arms. While we know that asana is only one part of the eight-limbed path of yoga, it is also a beautiful invitation into the sacred practice of yoga for many yogis. There are many things to keep in mind when beginning to play with arm balances. This article is intended to be a beginner’s intro to arm balances.
The hands and arms are the base of arm balances versus standing postures where the legs are the base. While the legs have evolved to hold our body weight up for us each and every day, the hands and arms are not. This is why the challenge of balancing on one’s arms can be so intriguing. That said, it is very important to pay attention to the hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders. These joints are not made to bear our full body weight and therefore the practitioner needs to spend time keeping the joints strong and healthy. This can be done through simple functional movement such as rolling out the wrists, spreading the fingers and squeezing them together, and much more. This can also be done through yin yoga which is a practice meant to strengthen the joints, or plastic tissues of the body. Injury and anatomical differences are always an important point of discussion with arm balances. There are certain conditions that make balancing on the hands and arms precarious if not impossible. This is an awesome reminder that not every pose is for every body.
When we consider the hands, we also begin to take into consideration the bandhas, or energetic containers of the body. In the hands we see the hasta bandha. It lies at the center of the palm and can be engaged for stability and support. You can engage hasta bandha by coming to hands and knees. Begin by spreading the fingers wide then start to press into all of the fingertips, but specifically the pointer finger. Simultaneously, press into the first knuckle of the pointer finger and the pinky. While doing this, we want to ensure that the weight is still evenly distributed between the entire palm, maybe even consciously pressing slightly into the edge of the palm nearest the wrist. Bandhas are an advanced topic and are fun to begin to play with while in downward facing dog, as well.
The arms are obviously very important when it comes to arm balances but one thing that many people don’t know is that the core is just as important, if not more so. Using your abdominal strength for support in arm balances is the key to finding the ‘floating’ aspect; moving with ease and stability comes, in large part, from a strengthened core. For example, when we begin to play with crow pose, or the arm balance where the knees are nestled into the pits of the arms as one balances on their hands with elbows at a 90 degree (or larger) angle. In crow pose, we also see another very important aspect of balance – the gaze, or drishti. Using the gaze will really make or break a student’s balance practice, specifically in arm balances. When in crow pose, if the practitioner focuses on the spot right between their hands they will fall forward most likely unless there is considerable strength in the arms to counterbalance the shifting forward. On the other hand, when the gaze shifts forward towards the tap edge of the mat and beyond it acts as an anchor to keep the practitioner balanced over their hands.
If you are interested in beginning to play with arm balances but are apprehensive about falling or injury, utilize the soft surfaces in your house to help you! For example, grab your couch cushions or pillows and blankets or any other suitable yoga props to place around you to soften the blow in case of falling. Props can also be fun to play with to start to build your foundation as you play with arm balances. Blocks can be used to brace the shoulders as you come forward in crow pose and a strap can be used in forearm stand around the biceps to support the arms and shoulders. Get creative and have fun as you start to explore. Remember to take it slow – as your body gets tired it will be harder and harder to hold and injury can be more likely. Rest is an integral part of the process and should be prioritized. Practice ahimsa in thought and in action by being kind to yourself as you start to try new things and rest when your body needs it. These are two beautiful forms of self love and self compassion to incorporate into your everyday life and your new arm balancing practice.
If you are in online yoga teacher training and would like to learn more how to incorporate arm balances into your practice, reach out to one of the lead teacher trainers of your online yoga school for a 1:1.