This Side Up: Building a Forearm Balance
You want progress and you want it now. It's natural to feel impatient when you're itching to lift into Headstand or want to quell the constant worries that arise in your mind. But real change is subtle and requires patience and persistence. Fortunately, doing yoga regularly can help you turn negative habits and fearful thoughts upside down. Challenging poses that may have once seemed preposterous, like inversions, will become possible, even fun.
Inversions like Pincha Mayurasana present wonderful opportunities for profound physical and mental transformation, but they're also rife with obstacles. Begin by simply noticing the obstacles that keep you from going upside down easily. When you acknowledge these blocks, you have something to work with, and a pathway to new possibilities reveals itself. You can nudge things along by cultivating meditative awareness and breaking inversions down into smaller, easier steps. This makes the goal of "perfection" less important; instead you can work creatively and enjoy the journey, no matter how long it takes.
As you work to build up to Pincha Mayurasana—a pose that requires a courageous, open heart, not to mention flexibility in the upper back and shoulders—notice when you feel challenged. If the physical part is hanging you up, concentrate on your upper body or your abdominal muscles to create the conditions necessary to go upside down. If fear is the problem and it takes hold, fully experience its texture as it arises, stay steady as those feelings move through you, and watch how they naturally dissolve.
The seeds of change already exist within you. Even if you don't go upside down today, you have everything you need—your breath, your patience, and your resolve—to transform your fear into curiosity and your cautious preparations into the exhilaration of a full inversion. Good luck!
Before you Begin
This short preparation gets your mind and body ready for the featured sequence, which you should do twice.
Om Chant: Three times.
Meditation: Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position for at least five minutes. Practice watching what comes up in your mind, letting go of it, and returning to the here and now. Instead of trying to cultivate a special state of mind, simply recognize the power of your thoughts. When you get carried away by a thought, label it "thought," then return to the present moment.
Warm-Up: Come to your hands and knees in a tabletop position. For each movement in this sequence, alternate inhaling and exhaling. Inhale and lift your right leg and reach it back from your hip. Place your knee back on the floor and lift your left leg. Now, lift your right arm alongside your ear and then your left.
Next lift your right leg and left arm on an inhalation. Exhale and bring them back to the floor. Switch sides. Finally, bring your right arm and right leg off the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Rest in Child's Pose with your knees apart and your feet together, arms extended in front of you. Then exhale and move into Down Dog. Slowly walk your feet to your hands. Bend your knees and curl up to standing. Observe how things change from upside down to right side up—inside your body, and also in relationship to what's around you.
Warm-Up Vinyasa: Do the following sequence: Mountain Pose, Upward Salute, Standing Forward Bend, step the right foot back into a lunge, Down Dog, Plank, Up Dog, Down Dog, step forward with the right leg into a lunge, Standing Forward Bend, Upward Salute, Mountain Pose. Repeat this sequence with the left leg stepping into each lunge.Do the whole sequence twice, adding in Warrior I and Warrior II instead of the lunges.
1. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), variation
From Tadasana (Mountain Pose), reach your arms overhead, alongside your ears. Rotate your arms externally so your palms face each other. If your ribs jut forward, encourage them to soften and relax. At the same time, press your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back.
Maintaining external rotation in the upper arms, rotate your forearms so your palms face forward. Then flex your wrists so your palms face the ceiling. Feel familiar? This is an upside-down Handstand. Even if you can't do a Handstand yet, you can feel the shape of the pose, so when you're feeling ready, strong, and confident, your body will remember it! Stay here for 8 breaths.
2. Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), variation 2
On an exhalation, continue externally rotating your arms until your palms face behind you. Bend your elbows and touch your shoulder blades—rest your right hand on your right shoulder blade and your left hand on your left shoulder blade. Keep the elbows pointing straight up and hug your head with your upper arms. Imagine lifting your elbows from the bottom of your back ribs. Now visualize a zipper in your inner thighs and zip it up to the top of your head. Isn't it amazing how challenging a seemingly simple pose can be? Perhaps this can help shift your idea of what's hard and what's easy. Stay here for 8 breaths.
3. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
As you inhale, lift your arms toward the ceiling, and as you exhale, dive forward into Uttanasana. Think of Uttanasana as a tiny inversion—keep your eyes open and watch how the world changes as you go from up to down. Pay attention to how things look and feel from a different point of view.
4. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
On the next inhalation, lengthen your spine so it's parallel to the floor. As you exhale, jump or step into Downward Dog. If you jump, make sure to bend your knees so you can land gently.
5. Plank Pose
On the next inhalation, shift your shoulders over your wrists for Plank Pose. Plank requires more than just arm strength, so engage your legs, reach evenly through your inner and outer heels, and lift your abdominals. Keep the back of your neck long and your chest open. Then lift your right hand off the floor, touch your sternum, and put it back on the floor. Lift your left hand, touch the top of your pubic bone, then put it back on the floor. Lift your right hand and touch your ribs on the lower right side. Put your hand down and then touch your ribs on the lower left side with your left hand. These four points define a diamond shape. Firming this diamond helps build strength to balance upside down.
6. Bitilasana (Cow Pose)
On an exhalation, keep your diamond belly lifting as you gently lower your knees to the floor. As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling. Keep the diamond belly firm.
Keeping your pelvis in Cow Pose, lower your forearms to the floor with your elbows directly under your armpits, and interlace your fingers. Press down through your forearms as you lift your pelvis up and begin to straighten your legs. Draw your thighs back to make space in your waist. Make sure your head doesn't touch the floor—this is a preparation for forearm balance. Look in front of you, behind you, and to both sides to practice keeping your neck soft. Then let your head relax into a neutral position.
8. Dolphin Push-Up
Inhale and move forward until your chin comes down in front of your hands. Exhale and lift back up into Downward Dog. Try to harmonize all parts of your body to distribute the work—down with your forearms, up with your hips, back with your legs. Activate your diamond belly, and don't forget to breathe! Try to do this 10 times. If that's too much, do it twice, then rest and repeat until you work up to 10. All it takes is patience, which comes easier than you might think—you only need to wait and watch as you grow stronger over time.
9. Balasana (Child's Pose)
Take a well-deserved rest. Lower your knees to the floor and bring your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. If your head doesn't reach the floor easily, place it on a yoga block or stack one fist on top of the other, and place your forehead on the top fist. Stay here as long as you like. Part of getting strong is knowing when to rest. If you can integrate that knowledge into your practice and your life, you will experience a huge and beneficial transformation.
10. Pincha Mayurasana Preparation (Forearm Balance Preparation)
Do this preparation twice, the first time leading with the right leg, the second time leading with the left. Stay here for 3 breaths, reaching evenly through your right heel and your left sitting bone and keeping your diamond belly lifted.
Place your right foot back on the floor and walk both feet toward your arms 3 to 4 inches. Inhale and lift your right leg, then exhale and lower it about 2 inches from the floor as you bend your left leg. On your next inhalation, kick your right leg up at the same time that you jump up with your left leg. Try to join your thighs together in the air. Do this 5 times. If that's too scary, try jumping your right leg off the ground 1 inch. If you don’t have the strength yet, just lift your right leg up, and bend and straighten your left leg 5 times. Remember to be patient. Rest in Child's Pose for 3 to 5 breaths.
11. Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance)
If you want to try the full inversion, bring your mat to a wall. If not, rest in Child's Pose or come back to the preparation pose for 5 to 10 breaths. To try Pincha Mayurasana, first loop a strap around your arms, shoulder width apart, just above your elbows. Make your way into Dolphin with a block between your hands—your fingertips should be right at the wall. If your shoulders and upper back are tight, place your elbows and upper forearms on a rolled-up blanket, palms off the blanket. This helps you do the pose without creating a banana-like curve in your spine. From Dolphin, walk your feet in as far as you can and kick up the same way you did for the preparation. Once you're up, keep your legs strong and active, zipping the inner thighs together and reaching through the heels. Stay for a few breaths and then come down.
12. Rock and Roll
Sit up slowly, swing your legs around and hug them into your chest. Exhale and rock back, inhale and rock forward. Do this several times for a groovy back massage. Let your breath move you back and forth as if you were a little ball being rocked by the wind. Get some momentum and rock your way up onto your feet and into Tadasana. Now you're right back where you started. What have you experienced? How are you different? How are you the same?
After You Finish
Do this series of finishing poses to complete your practice:Half Lord of the Fishes Pose.
Seated Pose: Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend. Do this once folding forward and then side-bending to the right and left.
Inversion: Supported Shoulderstand. (Find that zipper in your inner legs again.)
Closing Pose: Do Savasana for 10 minutes.
Let It All Go: Watch your thoughts wash over you like waves on the ocean. Chant Om 3 times.
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