Practicing yoga arm balances can easily discourage you and make you want to abandon your yoga practice once and for all.
Many yogis approach arm-balance yoga poses worrying that the arms may not be strong enough to support the body or that they end up falling flat on their face, leaving not only the body crashed but also the ego.
"The journey is the reward."
— Chinese proverb
1. 3 Basics to Approach Yoga Arm Balances
The first thing you need to know is that strength is not the only prerequisite for arm balances in yoga. You also need strong determination and mental focus. You won’t be able to balance if you let your mind waver and your thoughts drift away.
However, once you’ve achieved your first arm-balancing asana, feelings of confidence, accomplishment, and inner strength will emerge. The most important thing is to consider the journey to mastering arm balances the reward, maintaining a playful attitude and a sense of curiosity.
Let's start our arm balance workshop with the three major keys to arm balance yoga poses that make them easier accessible:
The first key to arm-balancing asanas is pushing away the ground. Push as hard as you can into the yoga mat and round your back. Spread the fingers wide. Tuck the chin to round the thoracic spine even more. Keep breathing, keep rounding and keep pushing the floor away from you.
The second pillar of arm balances is the action of hollowing the stomach. To practice this action, sit on your heels and place your hands onto your knees. Lean forward and, on an exhale, suck the navel in and up.
And last but not least: Pull. Practice this movement also sitting on your heels. This time, place your hands onto the yoga mat slightly in front of your knees. Lean forward and keep the arms straight. Now, pull the knees toward the chest, lifting the buttocks up. Release the knees back down onto the ground. Repeat this movement a few times.
When you remember these three points, you’ll be able to perform your first arm balances or improve your arm-balancing asanas.
2. Warm Up for Arm Balance Yoga Poses
2.1. Warm Up Your Forearms
In order to get ready for your arm balance workshop, you need strong forearms. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with strengthening them.
Straighten your arms out in front of you and make fists. In an explosive movement, open your fists and straighten the fingers. Then close the fists again. Repeat this movement faster, making it really powerful and explosive. Count up to 100 repetitions. Remember to always keep your arms straight in front of you.
Release your hands and feel the sensations in your forearms.
2.2. Knee to Elbow
Start in Plank pose and keep your legs strong. It may not seem too obvious, but strong lengths are essential to proper arm balances. Push the yoga mat away from you, tuck the chin and round your upper back. Avoid collapsing the shoulders. The part between your shoulder blades should be really strong and rock-solid.
Push back into Downward-Facing Dog and lift the right leg up. Inwardly rotate the thigh. It’s very important for yoga arm balances like Handstand, for example, that the hip is squared.
On an exhale, pull the right knee to the right armpit. Hold this position, tucking the chin and rounding the upper back. Now remember the three actions explained above: Push the yoga mat away, hollow your stomach by sucking the navel in, and – most importantly – pull your knee toward your armpit.
2.3. Warrior 1
From the previous position, step the right foot in front and between your hands and lift your torso to come into Warrior 1. Square the hip by inwardly rotating the back leg. Pull up the navel and move the pubic bone up. Close the ribcage. Lift the shoulders up to the ears and imagine you’re doing weightlifting with exactly your bodyweight: Let the palms face the ceiling and push them up.
Notice that you create the three key actions of arm-balancing poses here again: You push the arms away, you hollow the stomach and, well, you can pull your leg in here, but you can rotate the thigh inwards.
2.4. Downward-Facing Dog
The same three principles apply in this asana: Push the ground away with your hands. Bring your shoulders toward your ears and tuck the chin.
Bend the elbows outwardly. Now, you want to push into the yoga mat and straighten the arms. As a next step, you bend the elbows and, as you push into the ground, you want to jump up with your hands, i.e. your palms leaving the yoga mat.
This is a quite challenging action. So, when you jump, engage all arm muscles as your hands leave the floor. Note that your leg muscles should be engaged anyway.
Jump a few times and return to your normal Downward-Facing Dog.
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From Downward-Facing Dog, shift your bodyweight forward to transition into Plank and lower to Chaturanga. This asana is very important for arm balances and is often referred to as the mother of arm-balancing asanas.
While you’ll certainly feel your arms engaging, also keep your legs strong. Open your chest and lean forward. Make sure you really squeeze the elbows in.
Hold for a few breaths and then lower down to lie on your belly.
2.6. Forearm Plank
Place your forearms onto the yoga mat with the elbows directly under the shoulders. Point the feet, placing the backs of the feet onto the mat. Straighten your legs and lift the entire body up, i.e. your knees and chest will leave the floor as well.
In this position, round the upper back by pushing the forearms into the floor. Hollow the stomach by pulling the belly button in and the pubic bone up toward the navel. And, of course, don’t forget to engage your legs in this pose either, keeping them strong. Stay in this pose for 10 breaths before you return to Downward-Facing Dog.
From Downward-Facing Dog, walk your hands back toward your feet and slowly roll up to come into a standing position. Raise your arms up above the head. Move the shoulders up toward the ears and lift the heels. It’s very important here that you engage the big toes and the thighs.
Extend your index fingers to the ceiling and notice the energy flowing from your big toes through your thighs and ribcage up to your index fingers. Find your stability here. This is actually the same position that you’d have in Handstand, only that it’s upside down.
Now, make fists with your hands and bend your knees. Place the fists on your hip bones and start leaning forward, squeezing your fists between the thighs and the stomach. Straighten the legs, lift the heels and lower the head down.
You will probably feel a quite intense hamstring stretch and, at the same time, need to balance. Stay in this position for at least five breaths, even if – or especially because – it’s challenging.
Now you’re ready and prepared for your arm balance workshop. But if you're more of a hands-on person and want to practice right away with TINT, check out Young Ho Kim's Inside Yoga Alignment and the warm-up sequence for arm balances.
3. 7 Arm-Balancing Asanas to Challenge Yourself
This pose actually is the mother of all arm balance yoga poses. This means, if you want to practice arm balances, you first need to be able to properly perform Chaturanga.
Start in a prone position, i.e. lying on your belly. Place your palms onto the yoga mat and make sure that the forearms are vertical and the upper arms parallel to the floor.
Now, close the ribcage and suck the belly button in (hollow!). Finally, engage the thighs and push the hands into the mat to lift your body up. Remember here to squeeze the arms together.
If you're looking for advice on safe and healthy alignment in any yoga pose, including yoga arm balances, check out our free yoga alignment eBook where we reveal 3 yoga alignment secrets that you may not have been aware of before. They will help you maintain a safe and healthy yoga practice in general, not just when doing arm balance yoga poses.
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Use it as a reference guide to make the most of your yoga practice or teaching.
3.2. Crow (Bakasana)
Start in a squatting position (Malasana) and place your palms on the ground. Bend the arms as if practicing Chaturanga. Place the knees onto the outer upper arms and come up on your tippy-toes.
Start leaning towards the fingers. At the same time, point the toes and squeeze the elbows and knees in. Lift up the head instead of letting it drop down. Keep leaning forward until the feet get light and you can eventually lift them one after another.
Squeeze the knees against the upper arms and the upper arms against the knees. Let the big toes touch and try to straighten the arms.
3.3. Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)
For Side Crow, also start in Malsana with the hips low, the big toes touching and the knees in one line. Place the hands next to each other and shoulder-width apart on the yoga mat. Outwardly rotate the arms and bend them as if you were to come into Chaturanga.
Shift the bodyweight into the hands to lean forward and start lifting the feet off the yoga mat. Push the hands into the ground, hollow the belly in and pull the knees to the chest. Lift the buttocks up and move your heels toward your buttocks.
3.4. Leg-Split Arm Balance (Eka Pada Koudinyasana)
Start in a table-top position, extend one leg back and tuck the toes of the other leg. Pull the extended leg in toward the armpit and bend the arms as if you were practicing Chaturanga. Lean forward and squeeze the legs together. Now straighten the leg you brought to the armpit to the side. Lift the knee of the back leg and lean forward even more. Engage the toes and keep the shoulders strong.
Remember the basics of arm-balancing asanas: push, hollow, pull. This is why, while you bring your knee toward your armpit, you have to bend your arms and lean forward. At the same time, squeeze the legs in toward the midline so that the buttocks can lift up.
3.5. Eight-Angle Pose (Astavakrasana)
Start in a seated position. Hook one leg over the upper arm and let it rest on the back of the shoulder. Bend the elbows to a 90-degree angle. Criss-cross the feet and clamp the pinky-toes into each other. Lean forward with the chest and pull back with the buttocks. Squeeze the knees toward each other and rotate the top leg in. Finally, stretch the legs out and lean forward a little bit more.
3.6. Peacock (Mayurasana)
Start sitting on your heels in Hero pose (Virasana). Place the hands onto the yoga mat in front of you with the fingers pointing toward you. Lean forward so that your elbows bend slightly. Press the palms into the ground and the upper body against the back of the upper arms. Extend the legs back behind you with the toes facing the floor. Make sure your bodyweight is evenly distributed on the hands and feet.
Now, engage your core and squeeze the thighs together to shift the weight of the lower body to the upper body until you can eventually lift the feet off the ground. Instead of dropping the head down, lift it up and look forward.
3.7. Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya (Dvi Pada Koundinyasana)
This pose is an extension to Side Crow. Start in Side Crow following the steps above and lean the chest forward. Lift the chin up and look forward. Make sure the bodyweight is on the upper arms as you take the feet off the yoga mat. Go one step further here straighten both legs to the side.
4. Practice Yoga Arm Balances Online
Now it's time for you to practice. Let TINT guide you through various arm balance workshops. Start, for example, with Matt Giordano's Essentials of Arm Balances and work yourself up step by step to Master Your Crow with Mathieu Boldron. As a next step, you can even try to Master Your Twisting Arm Balances.
These program break down everything you need to feel confident, empowered and strong in all of the areas of your body that matter for yoga arm balances. You'll gain knowledge, strength, and techniques that will open up the world of possibilities in your yoga practice.
If you're up for playing a little with your arm-balance yoga poses, try the Firefly Crow Fusion in Alexandra Harfield's Dips, Binds & Balances. You can also challenge yourself by approaching Handstand in Jason Nemer's Handstand Training or Cameron Shayne's Budokon Handstand for Beginners.
Always remember that mastering yoga arm balances takes time and practice. Don’t expect to be able to perform arm-balancing yoga poses overnight, but be patient instead. Have fun during the journey and keep practicing!
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