As a class of poses, arm balances ask a lot of us. They require a good deal of strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness. However, when we step up to the challenges that these poses offer, the rewards are worth the effort.
Here are 5 tips to help you approach your arm balances with a solid foundation so that you’re setting yourself up for greater success.
1. All 4 corners of your palms must be rooted to the ground.
People often complain that arm balancing is hard on their wrists. The poses themselves innately put a lot of weight into the hands and arms, but they should not cause additional wrist pain.
The number one thing I see in the hands in arm balances is the lifting up of the base of the index finger (where the finger meets the palm). When this happens all of the weight dumps into the base of the outer wrist and can cause wrist pain.
The solution is to keep all 4 corners of the palm on the ground the whole time. And the 4 corners should be placed on the ground in a specific order, namely (1) base of the index finger, (2) base of the thumb, (3) base of the pinky finger, and (4) base of the outer wrist. When placed on the ground in this order, maintaining the connection of the corners that you’ve already placed, the weight in the hands and wrists will be more balanced. More balanced = less painful. It will feel as if the weight is more towards the inner hand and more towards the fingers than is the general tendency.
2. Your fingertips are your brakes.
When arm balancing, one of the big fears that comes up is face planting. It is a natural and well-founded fear because it does sometimes happen.
One important thing to keep in mind is that your fingertips are the brakes on the forward motion of your face towards the floor. When you claw your fingertips into the ground, you can slow down and eventually stop that forward momentum (up to a point). A lot of arm balances require that your face gets very close to the floor and the further you tip your weight forward in the hands, the more difficult it is to keep your face from becoming one with the floor, but use your claws and you will be able to gain more control.
Another good tip here is to put a pillow or a blanket in between your face and the floor when you’re working on an arm balance. The cushion will allow you to practice the pose with more confidence and less fear.
3. Place your hands outer shoulder distance apart.
For the two-hands-on-the-ground arm balances, one of the biggest tendencies I observe is placing the hands too close together underneath you.
The problem with hands too close together is that it doesn’t provide you with a broad enough foundation to support the pose. Placing your hands outer shoulder distance apart is a great way to set yourself up for arm balancing success since a wider base equals a stronger and more stable foundation.
Play around with a little wider and a little narrower width of the hands in each pose to find what works optimally for you.
4. Work on other similarly shaped poses.
When you have a particular arm balance in your crosshairs, aside from attempting the arm balance itself over and over again, the best way to approach it is to do other similarly shaped poses so that your body can acclimate to the general form.
You can, for example, do any arm balance shape while laying on your back. Repetitions of this will help you build the core strength you will use in doing the pose balanced on your hands. Handstand to bakasana reps is a great way to build up to bakasana.
Or practice poses that have a similar shape to the arm balance you’re working towards, for example, for eka pada koundinyasana I, poses like Brigit’s cross, revolved triangle (parivrtta trikonasana), and revolved standing sage (parivrtta utthita hasta padangusthasana) are all good preparatory poses.
Approach the arm balance not only head on, but also from the side. Sneak up on it!
5. Maintain a deep rhymic breath throughout.
It has to be said that keeping your breath smooth and steady throughout an arm balance is essential. Because arm balances can be edgy or scary, our natural reaction is for the breath to become shorter and more constricted.
By focusing on maintaining long rhymic breaths, the body will feel more at ease. You are cultivating a greater sense of calm, even in the face of fear. This will allow you more clarity as you practice the pose.
And this practice is great to have in life anytime you notice your breath becoming fast and choppy. Take a moment to slow down and smooth out your breath, you’ll find your calm again before you know it.
I hope you found these tips helpful. I’d love to hear your feedback!
If you are looking to dig in even deeper into arm balancing, join me for a great workshop THIS Sunday.
Arm Balancing Workshop
THIS Sunday, January 5th
1-3:30pm at Maha Yoga (1700 Sansom St, 6th flr)