5 Secret Ingredients to Arm Balance Postures
So you want to fly like a bird? Well, don’t we all. As young children, the idea of flying fascinates us, and even as adults, it’s still bewildering and desirable. The ability to gracefully lift off the ground, soar above the clouds, and then gently land is one that we would all love to have in our back pocket.
Well yogi friends, I have a secret… we CAN fly! We can float freely just like birds do. We can lift off, soar above, and gently land. It’s called arm balances.
In the yoga world, flying can mean all sorts of things from crow pose to handstand to floating back to chaturanga dandasana. For the purpose of this conversation, let’s stick to true arm balances, meaning we use our arms to balance on them. Who would’ve thought!
When first starting to practice yoga and for many months or years after, arm balance postures can “appear” unattainable, out of reach, too difficult, or light years away. Surprisingly, arm balance postures are actually quite simple once you know the proper technique. Poses like crow pose (bakasana), one legged and side crow pose, eight angle pose (astravakasana), and grasshopper pose are easily in reach. These postures ALL require the same movements and patterns. It’s simply up to us, as yogis, to instill these movements and patterns into our daily postures.
But enough buildup already – let’s get down to business. Here are the 5 Secret Ingredients to Arm Balance Postures. These ingredients will have you flying in no time! Ka – ka!
1. Spread the fingertips wide & root down through the hands.
Whenever we are trying to balance, the more surface we can connect to the ground the sturdier and steadier we will be. This is the same principle in yoga. The greater the connection between our hands and the earth, the easier it is to root down and rise up.
When teaching yoga classes, I often see students with fingertips barely spread. This is a major NO – NO! Spread those babies out! Feel each fingertip connecting with the Earth, ground down through the heel of hand, and then lengthen up towards the sky. This can apply to every posture in yoga, not just arm balances.
Start to notice where the fingertips are in each posture and what the hand is doing. Are you rolling to the outer edge of the hand? Are you only pressing down through the pointer finger and thumb? Begin to take a mental note of this and then slowly work towards expanding and extending the fingertips and hands. Eventually, this will become a habit that doesn’t require any thought process.
2. Create a shelf with the arms.
Creating a shelf is one of the most important components to lift off. If the body has nothing to stack on top of, the body will quickly fall. Imagine your body parts are like Legos. Each piece needs to neatly stack on top of one another, thus creating whatever shape is desired.
This is the same principle with arm balance postures. The arms should mimic chaturanga dandasana (low pushup), positioning with the elbows tucking in towards the body and shoulders staying in line with the elbows. Every posture requires this shelf! It’s the building block of arm balances.
3. Gaze forward and then gaze forward MORE!
For some reason, we love looking straight down. Think about when we walk, run, or step up onto something. The tendency is to gaze directly down at the feet. We need to break that habit stat!
In order to fly and stay soaring above, it’s absolutely necessary to gaze forward. Now, let me clarify the word “forward.” I don’t mean crank the neck so hard that a muscle spasm occurs or causes any type of discomfort. What I do mean is a soft gaze out in front of the fingertips, usually about 6 inches. Nothing crazy!
Start to practice this step wholeheartedly. Not just here and there, but every time you come to the mat.
Arm balances will soon become a bright light of possibility when the gaze is forward. We want the eyes to direct the body, to be the guide, to be the captain sailing the ship.
4. Suck the Belly UP and IN.
This is a literal statement. Literally suck the belly up towards the ribs, and in towards the spine. If what I’m saying is not clicking, try this:
Lie down on your back and breathe normally, inhaling and exhaling out of the nose.
On the next exhale, send the bellybutton up towards the heart and back towards the spine.
Do you feel that? “That” being the activation of your entire core, the power center, the space from where we should always move from. This, my friends, is how it should always feel, in almost every yoga posture, unless it’s a restorative yoga pose or class.
Just like the fingertips, hands, and gaze – start to tap into the core of your body. Begin to really use its power on each exhale and refocus on each inhale. When the core is engaged and aware, the body is able to balance and relax. This allows us to fly while remaining calm and balanced.
I saved the best for last: the breath. You might be thinking this is the easiest step or this is the unnecessary step. Wrong. The breath is the most important component of any asana. It’s literally what moves us from pose to pose and breathes life into the posture!
ALWAYS take deep inhalations and exhalations out of the nose, especially when flying. In order to sustain the pose and keep soaring, the body needs to keep working. In order for the body to work and keep it all together, it needs energy and sustenance. That’s where the breath comes into play.
Start to treat your breath as a vital energy source that provides the key to a fruitful life. Once you start to believe this and wholeheartedly practice it, you’ll realize it’s the truth. The breath is our life. Period. End of story.
Okay yogis of the world, it’s time to leave the nest and fly. It’s time to mold these 5 secret ingredients together and integrate them into your yoga practice. Start slowly and with no expectations. Don’t chase yoga shapes or force the body into postures. Stay very present in each yoga practice and yoga pose. Do all of this and you too will be soaring high. Go take flight!
Here are some pointers on some of my favorite arm balances. Pin these on your Pinterest boards so you can reference them later.