Arm balances. They’re an iconic part of the modern yoga scene. The pictures we see on magazine covers, advertisements, and Instagram inspire yogis all over the world every day with their sense of strength, grace, and focus.
Sure, they look incredible, but are they worth all the hype? This yogi says ABSOLUTELY!
Balancing poses help us connect with the present moment. When you add the challenge of balancing on our hands or arms instead of our feet, the degree of mental focus required escalates. You can’t easily get up into a Handstand if you let the mind drift to thoughts about what you’re making for dinner!
Arm balances can also help to increase feelings of self-confidence, courage, and inner strength. And they’re a playful way of approaching our practice and our bodies with a sense of curiosity and fun!
Arm Balances for Different Levels of Practice
There are loads of different arm balances to choose from, some are suitable for beginners, while some poses offer complexities and challenges that make them suited only to experienced yogis.
A key theme for pretty much all arm balances is a strong core. You also need to build up strength and stability in the wrists* and explore your sense of courage and playfulness. The good news is, there’s an arm balance available for all different levels. Here are a few of our favourites.
Entry-Level Arm Balances
1. Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Crow is a really good starting point for an arm balancing practice. It can help newer yogis realise how strong and coordinated they are, so it’s a great way of boosting confidence and of course having fun! It tones and strengthens the arms, shoulders, core, and the mind.
If you’re fearful of falling forward (which can happen!), place a pillow out in front to help you feel a bit more confident.
Tip: Create a more stable foundation by spreading the fingers and pressing down with the whole hand, including the five finger pads, and gaze out just in front of the hands.
2. Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)
This variation adds another layer of complexity, though is still very accessible. It’s a great pose for building strength in the wrists and arms, as well as the oblique muscles at the side of the core.
There are a couple of variations that can alter the degree of difficulty, and once you’ve mastered your Side Crow, it can create a great foundation to progress further to poses like Koundinyasana.
Intermediate Level Arm Balances
1. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
Do you see how easily and effortlessly kids float up into Handstand? That fearless sense of playfulness means they don’t over think it, they just do it. This pose builds our sense of courage and can help us overcome fear, which often comes up when we go upside down.
Fear of falling is common and can be reduced by practicing at the wall and/or with a partner. Handstand helps develop strength in the arms and shoulders, and after you’ve been practicing a while, this pose can help you feel a whole lot lighter and more in tune with your body.
Tip: Make sure you warm up and open through the shoulders first and like Crow, use the whole hand (five finger pads included) and take your gaze out in front of your hands to help you conceptualise a more stable foundation.
2. Eight Angle Pose (Astavakrasana)
This is an impressive-looking arm balance that you’ll often see yoga teachers or studios using in their advertisements. It’s challenging but probably more accessible than a lot of people think.
It takes practice to balance with the body and legs in a non-symmetrical position, but because you come in to the pose from a seated position, it makes it a little less scary than other arm balances.
It pays to be relaxed right from the start so you can avoid any rigidity in the mind that might prevent you from expressing this beautiful, uplifting pose.
Tip: With most arm balances, the chest needs to come forward once you’ve got the feet hooked. This is often a stage that scares people. To help this, you can imagine a light shining within your heart centre and let that light guide you forward.
Advanced Level Arm Balances
1. Scorpion Pose (Vrschikasana)
Backbends can be daunting, and so can going upside down and balancing on your hands. This pose combines all three, so needless to say, it’s in the advanced category for a reason.
Traditional Scorpion is done on the forearms, though it is also performed in Handstand variation. Both poses strengthen the entire body and create flexibility within the spine, while cultivating a deep level of focus and concentration.
It’s recommended that you attempt this one under the guidance of a suitably qualified teacher.
2. Visvamitrasana (Sage Visvamitra’s Pose)
As you can probably tell from the pic, this pose helps to build incredible full-body strength, particularly in the core, arms and legs. It also opens the hips, hamstring and inner thigh muscles. And with all that intensity, correct alignment is really important.
The power, strength, and stability it cultivates are bound to deliver a mega boost of self-confidence.
Arm balances can help you become lighter in your attitude and stronger in your body and mind. They can add a really playful and fun element to yoga and also show us what we’re made of!
*Note: It’s important to remember that most arm balances are strong on the wrists, so if you have any wrist issues or injuries, practice with caution and speak to your yoga teacher about modifications and poses that are suitable for you.