Arm balances are poses that can be performed by anyone with a background on yoga basics. This is an excellent practice to strengthen the arms, wrists, abdominal and back muscles. While some of the beginner postures are relatively easy to perform, the more advanced asanas or poses are better performed under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.
Visually, some poses looked relatively easy to do while other look so intimidating and ridiculous to do? But what stops someone from just simply trying it out?
Here are some of the most common reasons:
#1: “I’m not strong enough. “
Yes you’re right—you do need a certain amount of strength. However, it’s not all mere physical strength that can get you up or around a pose. It’s initially about understanding your body, knowing where certain parts are and where to put what part at a given time.
#2: “I’m too heavy.”
Being heavy may set an initial limitation. However, arm balances are about weight management—figuring out how you distribute your weight intelligently across different areas to achieve lift off.
#3: “I have an injury or pain.”
Injuries and body pains may set initial limitations, but can be a goal for further strengthening and conditioning that particular area of your body. Arm balances can be modified to still help you strengthen some parts of your body while avoiding strain and on your injured body part.
#4: “I can never do it.”
Openness and willingness to try and explore plays a huge role in any type of learning. If the pose has already been sentenced as impossible to do, more often than not, the success rate will be really low. Have a sense of play and believe in yourself!
#5 : “I’m scared.”
Being scared is usually an effect of not knowing something enough. Understanding the principles and actions behind a pose is one crucial step to taking out the fear that lurks in our minds.
When I was new to my yoga practice, arm balances gave me grave anxiety and frustration. I was initially discouraged from doing any arm balance because I was distracted by everything I saw online and on social media. Everything seemed difficult and complicated. Little did I know, that I was already doing some variation of an arm balance in the beginners’ classes. I did not realize it at the time that planks (regular, twisted or one arm), even table top or downdog were already preps of versions to arm balances.
So apparently we’ve all been arm balancing already…what do I need to learn, understand and do to get started?
#1: Learn what to ground and stabilize
(Stack your joints properly and spread the weight throughout your hands.)
Our hands play an important role in arm balances, they serve as our base. You’ll need to evenly distribute weight throughout the hand, specifically in the triad of the hand.
Proper alignment of the whole arm from the forearms to the upper arm-bone (humerus). Stabilize the wrist by pressing the tips of the finger and the top of the palms, this activates and engages the forearms. Once your hands start to bear weight evenly, you must use your wrists keep your weight from moving too far forward of your hands. Think of the way your ankles push your feet into the floor when you walk to keep you from falling on your face. Same rule applies—you flex the wrists to push the hands into the floor so you don’t fall on your face.
#2: Build Core Strength
(Plank is good place to start building strength. You can take Forearm Plank as a variation if your wrists feel quite sore or tight. )
Your arms are relatively small in comparison to the mass and weight of your body. If you rely solely on your arms you will need enormous power on your upper body to hold your body off the ground. Think that each part of the body is responsible for lifting and being strong itself then you will have not just the strength of your arms but the strength of every muscle in your whole body to lift up.
Think of your core muscles as a stretchy piece of corset wrapped around your middle. Tightening that corset will compress your body into a more compact shape, making it easier to carry on a smaller base.
(Take side plank or a variation to build side core and arm strength)
Distributing the work of the posture throughout the whole body is more balanced and does not overuse or stress any one muscle or joint. Building a strong core is an efficient movement pattern that prevents lower back injury and keeps the body in healthy alignment.
#3: Strengthen Your Hip Flexors and Activate your Legs
(Boat pose strengthens the hip flexors which help when getting into more compact arm balance shapes.)
In most yoga arm balances, one or both legs rest on the back of the arm or arms (with the exception of mayurasana or peacock pose where your belly is over your elbows).
Depending on the arm balance pose, you get your knee/s or leg/s over your arms which will require deep hip flexion (and with other poses combined with hip extension). This can be strengthened in plank, by simple actions like bringing the knee to the chest, taking the knee towards the shoulder or armpit or crossing it over to the opposite arm.
One action you can work on is to engage your legs, front and back of your thighs. This will help you with balance and eventual lift off. As you press your leg (or legs) down again against your arms, you can then use your leg muscles to help provide some lift for your pelvis, something like a seesaw action. With your legs engaged and a lift in your pelvis, this will lessen the work that your arms and hands have to do in the pose.
#4: Think Forward, not Upward
In terms of getting your feet off of the floor, one of the simplest things that you can do is to shift your weight forward. This means getting as much of your body in front of your hands as there is behind it so that you are actually balanced. With poses that require you to straighten your legs, reaching through the balls of your feet or heels, as far away from your center of gravity will help displace weight and lighten body load to achieve lift off.
#5: Work with your breath
(Take slow deep breaths to help slow down your heart.)
To take flight and to sustain it, one must be able to work with a steady breath. Our breath is the fuel for our engine which is our body. Can you imagine what happens to an engine if fuel is pumped to strong, too little or none at all? It’s the same thing with our body, the stronger and more jagged our breath is, it will be harder to focus and to stay light. With steady and regulated breathing come focus, lightness, and calm.
#6: Have fun!
Sometimes, what keeps you on the ground is really just frustration, tension and anxiety. Arm balances were designed to be fun. Nothing beats having a good laugh as you learn various arm balances or any pose for that matter. The moment you let go and learn to relax, lift-off will happen before you know it .
Mj Diño teaches foundation and vinyasa flow classes at Urban Ashram Yoga. She’s a super wife and an amazing mom of two kids (and puppies).