Arm balances require more than Popeye's strength. Just ask senior Iyengar teacher John Schumacher. "Hardly anyone can muscle their way into arm balances," he says. Schumacher describes some of his students as men who are strong enough to do 100 Sun Salutations but who can't do an arm balance because they lack the flexibility to get their arms and legs into position. He also teaches a lot of flexible people who need to develop more strength. Schumacher came up with the sequence on the following pages to help you increase both strength and flexibility.
The sequence will definitely work your abdominal muscles and build core strength, even in your spinal muscles. Once you've toned your core, you'll put it to the test in the arm balances. You'll need to use your strength and flexibility for a key action you'll do in the last four poses: tucking your abdominals up and in toward your spine. Yoga students are often instructed to lengthen the spine, but here Schumacher wants you to move your sacrum away from your lumbar spine and "tuck" inward as you round or curl. Visualize wrapping yourself around a beachball, he advises.
Even when practicing taxing poses, Schumacher encourages having a playful, adventurous attitude. "Kids will try to stand on their heads, laugh, and have fun—not get mad—and try again," he says. Infuse your practice with this spirit of playfulness and realize that you might not get a pose right away. "But try to learn about yourself as you play," Schumacher says. "See if you can maintain equanimity as you discover what your response is to a difficult situation."
Set an intention it in Virasana (Hero Pose) and become clear about your intention. This is a challenging practice, but resolve to be more interested in learning about yourself than in "getting" the pose. Keep a playful nature in mind and enjoy yourself.
Unfold practice Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and a few simple backbends to balance the spine. Lie in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) to soften the groin and abdomen. Then stretch your legs into Savasana (Corpse Pose).