Arm balances just makes me soooo happy, I can hardly stand it. I mean, honestly, every time a yoga instructor calls out an option for an arm balance or an inversion, I’m literally like, YAAAAAS GAWD. Unless I’ve eaten all the things right before class and feel as though I’m made of bricks. Then I’m like, WHHHHYYY, make the lambs stop screaming!!! Yoga is cruel to the gluttonous, just so you know. But when a girl’s gotta eat, she’s gotta eat. Even if it’s right before class.
Here’s the thing I like to tell my own clients regarding the oh-so-tricky art of arm balances and inversions: it should be fun. Sure, it’s difficult—really difficult. After all, you’re both balancing and holding yourself up on a tiny portion of your body. But this isn’t the time to go Type A or let your perfectionism kick in. This is the exact moment to practice patience and give yourself grace.
Before you even start, lay your ego at the door. Hey, I know you just skimmed that sentence! Back up Buttercup! I know it, because those are the exact types of phrases that often go one ear and out my other ear. Yeah, yeah. “No ego, ok whatever…now show me the five steps to do those Instagram worthy poses!” That was definitely my mentality when I first started yoga. If you’re not at this point now, awesome. You might find yourself there one day. If you don’t, bless your lucky little ego-less stars.
Removing our ego from our practice is difficult, but necessary. Ego and joy cannot easily reside together, any more than perfectionism and peace can co-exist. So before you even hurtle yourself into any challenging asanas, take a moment and remember what it was like to play. To be a child. To chase the thrill of crossing those monkey beams simply for the pleasure of being a badass mamba-jamba. So I would like to invite you to set perfectionism aside and just play. Let go of perfectionism and grab on to joy.
Now that I got that little bit out of the way, let’s dive into the steps. First of all, I do highly recommend checking out a Youtube video to watch side crow in action. I’ve found for myself and my clients, it’s helpful to see, read, and do. The combination really helps everything gel together.
Dip into chair pose as you lengthen your spine. Pull your belly in and twist over to the side and hook your arms as if in prayer. Crouch down on your toes and plant hands on the floor. As you do this, remember to keep a long spine! LOOOOONG SPINE! The natural instinct is to round the back and let the belly hang out, but this is not the time to go Hunchback of Notre Dame. A long spine will help you hook your armpit over your leg so you can firmly press your arms against your thigh.
Plant hands firmly in front of you, about shoulders width apart. I think it helps to form an “L” with the thumbs and pointer fingers, because it gives me guidelines.
Prepare arms: bend like you’re going into chaturanga (a 90 degree angle). This helps stack your bones appropriately so you can balance your weight on basically just an elbow in the full expression of the pose.
Tip—> This triangle base is how you set up for headstand, handstand, crow, and many other arm balances and inversion
- Lengthen your spine before you rotate, exhale as you twist over. Think side prayer pose
- Create triangle base with hands and gaze.
- Arms should be set in chaturanga form, tucked in against your body
- Gaze should be slightly in front of hands. Think of a triangle; your drishti (gaze) is the top of the triangle. Again, this helps form a solid base for you.
Enjoy the glooooooorious view of my tush. J/K. Here, you can see I’m going into chaturanga arms, pressing my base arm/arm pit firmly against my leg. If you do not want to do a one arm version like I’m doing in this pick, simply shift hips over and press BOTH arms/elbows against the leg.
- Keep chaturanga arms firmly pressed in towards the body. This is your base, and if your arms splay out, you’ll lose your foundation.
- Do NOT let all the weight hit your wrists. That’s a great way to get injured. Grip from the finger pads. You actually almost push off from the tips of the fingers, which helps distribute weight.
- Do keep steady breathing throughout this asana. Yoga is breathing. Everything else is a stunt.
Inhale as you lift off toes and shift your weight onto your arm. The inhale helps, I swear by all the best yoga mats in the ENTIRE WORLD. Remember to continue breathing in this pose.
- Keep core, arms, and legs engaged to help maintain balance
- Set your drishti (gaze) to ensure better balance. The body gets overwhelmed if our gaze is moving all over the place
- Continue to press from the fingertips to take pressure off the wrists
- I cannot say this enough: Yoga is about breath; everything else is acrobatics.
The crazy, wonderful, horrible thing about arm balances is that some days you will feel like a rocket man blasting off to the moon, and other days like an elephant firmly and determinedly planted on the ground. Emotional weight and exhaustion is a real thing in yoga.
If your body feels heavy, honor your Self by focusing more perhaps on nourishing stretches and gentler asanas. Muscle fatigue and overtraining is also something that will haunt your practice, especially if you’re the type who’s just a little bit addicted to working out. Take what the body gives you, and receive it with gratitude.
Strength drills that help with this arm balance:
- High plank
- Forearm plank
- Revolved side angle pose
- Meditation: strengthen the mind, and the body can achieve amazing things