Opens the shoulders for backbends; builds arm strength for more-advanced arm balances; adds an uplifting quality to your spirit and practice
Use a belt and block to set up for Dolphin at the wall. Keep your shoulders over your elbows and look between your forearms. Keeping your right leg straight, inhale to extend it up. Extend strongly through your right inner heel and inner leg, moving the inner leg toward the wall behind you. Rotate the outer right leg in to keep the hips level. Do not rotate the leg open: This will shift weight to one hand, causing unevenness in the hips. Hold for a few breaths, finding lines of energy from the shoulders through the sides of the body to the inner leg and heel of the right leg, reaching up. Bring the right leg down and switch sides.
Come back to Dolphin. Before kicking up, remember the work of your top leg from step 1, and that bringing the hips over the shoulders is key to coming up gracefully and lightly. As you step your left foot forward, use the momentum to kick your right leg up the wall. The left leg will follow. Once you are up, flex your feet and reach your legs away from the shoulders. Extend your buttocks toward your heels. Draw the buttocks away from the wall and take your top thighs toward the backs of the legs. Release your inner legs toward the wall to keep the legs from rotating out. Thighs stay active. Exhale to release; repeat on the left.
Once you are able to move your torso and legs up the wall without feeling weight in your shoulders, you can start to explore where your midline is in order to balance. Come back to having both feet on the wall and bend your knees until the shins are parallel with the ceiling. Keep your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Roll your thighs in and press your feet into the wall, especially through the inner heels and big toes to bring your hips over your shoulders. Move the buttocks away from the wall and the lower back. This variation will train your legs to stay upright and avoid an arch (or banana shape). It also trains you to move the pose out of your shoulders and find your plumb line.
Balance becomes effortless in this pose when your legs are not leaning too far forward or too far back—when they are stacked over your hips and shoulders. Bring your feet and knees together. Now take your right leg up and flex your foot, making sure your right leg doesn’t extend past your left knee. Move your heel up toward the ceiling and extend your buttocks toward your heel. Lift your leg up out of your lower back. When you have control of your lifted leg and have lift in your shoulders, try bringing the left leg to meet the right. As soon as your feet and legs come together, flex your feet. Make your legs powerful, extending them vigorously. It is as though your feet and legs are doing Tadasana (Mountain Pose) upside down! Try this again, but this time extend the left leg.
When you feel you have control in step 3b, test your progress. Take one prop away and see if you can maintain the work, then remove another. When you can maintain the work without the props, it is time to try the full expression of the pose. Come to Dolphin at the center of the room. Keep your shoulders lifted and your gaze between your forearms. Soften your face and breathe smoothly. Draw your shoulder blades flat onto your back and keep the fronts of the arms upright. On an inhalation, kick up like you did in step 1. This time, you will need to take the right leg slightly over your head, bringing your legs into a V shape. This will cause the hips to come over the shoulders, helping you find a balance point—once located, slowly join your legs. Flex your feet and extend your legs up out of the shoulders. Embody the actions of Mountain Pose, bringing your thighs toward the backs of your legs, and buttocks toward your heels. Keep your gaze soft and breath smooth. Hold for as long as you can. Exhale to come down and rest in Balasana (Child’s Pose).
As you work on balance, don’t be in a hurry to move away from the wall. Being close to the wall has all the benefits of Pincha Mayurasana and gives you the security of working on your balance, without the risk of falling into a deep backbend. Make sure you are warmed up and able to safely move into a pose like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose), which is where you’ll end up if you fall backward. Also, at the center of the room, it might be better not to use the props in case your elbows need to widen to soften a fall.