Arm balancing is a fabulous way to add a bone strengthening, weight lifting component to your practice. It also provides space to meditate for those of us who just can’t sit still.
You can find a lot of “what-goes-where” tutorials or classes on arm balances, but beyond that, it sure does help to have a few physical tips to utilize as you make your way towards that fabulous pose you’re working on!
Below are the solid tips that discuss different ways to enter a posture, because not every entrance is viable for every yogi. In fact if you run down this list and you are still having a hard time entering a posture, look up different ways to enter that pose, then re-apply these tips.
1. Practice Chaturanga Arms
Practice squeezing your elbows towards your rib cage in Chaturanga and then bring that effort to your arm balances each time you come up.
2. Open Hands
A strong foundation or base is vital in any posture. A lot of yogis get tender wrists or feel weak in that joint when practicing arm balances. Prevent this by spreading your fingers into a starfish shape and gripping your fingertips into the floor to create more strength in your hands.
Practice this in your plank holds to strengthen your wrists, and the tendons in your hands and forearms.
3. Engage Your Core
You can do this by practicing Uddiyana Bandha. Scoop your belly in, in as many shapes as you can, so that you are practicing engaging your “flight lock” (Uddiyana Bandha). It should feel as if your ribs are zippering towards the center of your torso and up to your chin.
4. Break It Down
Break the shape down into puzzle pieces and work on slowly strengthening or opening each aspect using other postures and possibly even props.
For example: Grasshopper Pose (pictured) contains Folded (or lazy) Pigeon Pose for the hips, a deep twist (Half Lord Of The Fish), open hamstrings and strong extension in the lifted leg (Warrior 3 and Pyramid Pose), a very strong Chaturanga, and lots of core. Work on those elements every time you practice and especially before coming into the pose.
5. Activate Your Yogi Toes
Try not to forget about your legs when you’re balancing. The floppier your legs, the more heavy they will be, and the more likely you are to fall from your shape, or not be able to control a transition. Continually activate your feet and thighs. Having control like this will up your confidence and help you thrive in the arm balances.
6. Focus and Look Up
You’re trying to lift UP, so use the idea that where your eyes go, your body follows. We use this a lot in twists and it works here too. Focus your intention and your gaze, then press directly towards that goal.
In arm balances, looking up often means you are actually looking forward. I like to tell my students to think of this gaze as a metaphor for you moving forward in your practice, your confidence, and your inner as well as outer strength. Positive thinking goes a long way after all!
7. Lengthen Your Neck
This may not sound stabilizing, however if you draw your head away from your shoulders, two things happen; first, you create a long, strong spine by elongating the erector muscles along your back. This gives you the opening feelings of length, strength, and flight.
Second, it forces you to engage your serratus muscles between your ribs, which will keep you flying longer. It's the same sensation as pressing your heart over your toes in a seated forward fold.
Taking flight in any arm balance is far more about mindset than anything else. You need to lose the fear factor, promote confidence, and free yourself of any thoughts or emotions that are literally anchoring you to the ground. It is a process that is not fast for everyone, so don’t get disheartened or give up. It's called yoga practice, after all! You can do this, yogi!