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Firefly Pose: The Complete Guide

Want to fly? Fire up your core. Firefly pose is an arm balance pose that requires more core than arm strength.


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All yoga postures teach patience, but Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) can seem like an overachiever in empowering you with that lesson. Firefly brings an intense demand of your buttocks (glutes), backs of thighs (hamstrings), and palm sides of your wrists (wrist flexors).

It also requires plenty of mental fortitude. But ironically, softening your mental approach to the pose can actually make it easier!  Focus on manifesting the actual name of the pose—Firefly.  “We all have an inner light waiting to be fired up. To shine this light around you, you need to access the energy within you,” says yoga teacher Kathryn Budig. One way to do this is to maintain your connection to your breath as you enter and exit the pose.

As you extend and reach your legs out into space, you’ll feel a nourishing energy as your legs hug your arms. As you squeeze in with your legs, imagine drawing this nourishing energy in. As you extend your legs out, imagine that your light shines brighter, making an offering. Confidence will build along with ease and lightness. And even if your feet never leave the ground, you’ll likely find that you’ve been shining all along.

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Firefly basics

Sanskrit: Tittibhasana (tit-tee-BHA-sah-nah )

tittibha = an insect
asana = pose

Pose type: Arm Balance

Targets: Upper body strength

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Benefits

Firefly stretches the buttocks (glutes), backs of thighs (hamstrings), and palm sides of your wrists (wrist flexors), which counteracts the effects of typing. The pose also strengthens your core, chest, shoulders, fronts of hips (hip flexors), and backs of thighs (hamstrings).

Other Firefly perks:

  • Practicing Firefly helps improve your sense of balance.
  • While not a traditional heart opener, lifting your sternum and melting your shoulders back helps to open the heart.
  • Firefly will challenge your patience. That’s a good thing—research shows that patient people experience less depression and fewer negative emotions, perhaps because they can cope better with upsetting or stressful situations.
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Step-by-Step instructions

  1. Start in a Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), with your toes pointing slightly out and knees slightly bent.
  2. Take your right hand through your legs to clasp your right calf, placing your right shoulder behind your right knee. Then move your right hand to the floor behind your heel with fingers facing forward.
  3. Repeat this process on the left side.
  4. Tilt your chest forward and carefully lower your legs onto the backs of your upper arms.
  5. Inhale and lift your feet off the floor and straighten your legs.
  6.  The pose can be practiced different ways—with your pelvis low and the feet high, or with your legs parallel to the floor. In either variation, press down firmly through you whole hand. Pull your sternum away from your navel and broaden the collarbones so your chest is not collapsed
  7. Hold the pose for 5–10 breaths, then either release, bringing your feet to the floor or use an exhalation to transition into Bakasana (Crane Pose).
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Explore the pose

Firefly is an advanced pose. You should be adept in practicing Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) before attempting it, as it requires significant flexibility in the back and hamstrings. You should also be comfortable performing Bakasana (Crow Pose) and Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) to ensure you have enough arm strength and balance for Tittibhasana.

Tittibhasana is a symmetrical posture that is similar to Bakasana but shifts your center of gravity forward. The extension of your legs is balanced by the outward push of your arms against your thighs to maintain equilibrium in the pose. You are also lifting your torso against the downward pull of gravity.

Fine adjustments to the pose can be made by flexing and extending your body in different ways.

  • Point your feet. This projects your center of gravity forward. Try it and feel how this affects the distribution of weight in your hands.
  • Flex your hips and trunk at the same time. This action tilts the legs upward. Try this while squeezing your thighs into your arms.

Common mistakes

Not warming up. Before moving into Firefly, spend time warming up your arms and wrists so that the weight of your body in the pose does not aggravate them. Warming up your hamstrings will help you straighten your legs in the pose.

Not making use of variations and props. Avoid or modify this pose if you have problems with your wrists—arthritis, pain, or carpal tunnel syndrome. You may also want to make adjustments if you have knee pain, a knee injury, or a groin pull or tear.

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Firefly variations

The pose demands that you find stability and poise while exerting your muscles in ways you perhaps haven’t before. So you may want a little support to help you feel the pose in your body prior to exploring its full expression. Here are three variations of Firefly that you can use while working up to the pose—or just enjoy them on their own.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Bent Knee Low Firefly Pose

In this variation of Firefly, you’ll come almost completely into the pose. The only difference: your knees remain slightly bent, which is ideal if you have tight hamstrings (or if you feel pain as you try to straighten your legs). Because your legs aren’t fully straightened, they’ll remain closer to the ground, which helps with balance. The pose is no cheat, though, as it still demands ample arm, wrist, and core strength as well as poise. And yes, you’ll still experience the exact same exhilaration as being in the straight-legged expression of the pose.

When you’re at this stage of variation on Firefly, you can practice to go beyond it with poses that stretch your hamstrings, including those that create the same shape that Firefly demands, such as Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) and Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend). Also instrumental are Yin Yoga poses, which are long-held stretches that emphasize lengthening the tight connective tissues surrounding your muscles. While most Yin stretches will help you achieve the flexibility demanded by this pose, be certain to include Butterfly, Half Dragonfly, Dragonfly, and Caterpillar.

Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Using blocks in Firefly is ideal if your arms aren’t long (everyone’s anatomy is different!) or if your shoulders or hips tend to be tight. This approach effectively lifts the ground to meet you, which lengthens your arms and creates more space in your midsection. When you come into the pose, you won’t need to flex quite so deeply at the hips. It also takes some of the pressure off your wrists and shifts your center of gravity upward, which can make finding—and maintaining—your balance somewhat easier. You’ll need two blocks for this variation.

  • Come into Malasana (Garland Pose).
  • Place the blocks on the floor between your feet. They should be parallel to each other and at the lowest height.
  • Place your hands onto blocks. Press into your hands so there is little to no weight on your feet.
  • You may want to try lifting one or both feet slightly off the floor. Start by lifting one foot an inch or so off the mat, then lowering it and lifting your other foot. Then try lifting both feet at once.
  • Hold for several breaths. Then slowly come out of the pose the same way you came into it.
Photo: Christopher Dougherty

Because your weight is supported by the chair in this variation of Firefly, you’ll need less strength in your abdominals, legs, and arms. And because your arms are given a lift by blocks, it demands less shoulder and hip flexibility. Don’t assume this variation is easy, though. It still requires you to draw on strength and self-awareness.

Relying on the chair for support allows you to experience the shape of the pose and recognize the parts of your body where you can challenge yourself to build strength and flexibility.

  • Sit on the front edge of a chair with your legs wide, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
  • Place two blocks on the floor in front of you at any height.
  • Lean forward and bring your hands to blocks.
  • Make sure you feel stable on the chair. Then begin to slowly straighten your legs as much as you can without forcing it.
  • Stay for a few deep breaths, then put your feet back on the floor.
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Preparatory and counter poses

Warm up your hamstrings with forward bends and practice core strengtheners. Counter with gentle forward bends.

Preparatory poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Plank Pose

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

Malasana (Garland Pose)

Garudasana (Eagle Pose) (arms only)

Bakasana (Crane Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)

Upavistha Konasana (Wide-Angle Seated Forward Bend)

Counter poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

 

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Your body In Firefly | Anatomy

Firefly Pose is similar to Bakasana (Crow Pose). It strengthens your upper body and links your upper and lower appendicular skeleton—the shoulder girdle, the upper limbs, the pelvic girdle, and the lower limbs—to create stability, says Ray Long, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and yoga instructor. Tittibhasana also strengthens your quadriceps and psoas muscles, stretching the back of your body in the process.

In Tittibhasana, your hips flex and your knees extend. Your inner legs press against your arms, connecting your upper and lower extremities and bracing your elbows. By joining your inner thighs and upper arms, you draw strength from the core of your pelvic and shoulder girdles. This is what helps you balance in the pose.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Firefly Pose: Tittibhasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor
  • The psoas combines with the rectus abdominus along the trunk to bend the trunk and hips.
  • The gastrocnemius and soleus in the calf bend the ankles away from the shins.
  • The pectoralis major in the chest works with the anterior deltoids at the front of the shoulders, stabilizing the shoulders.

anatomy of firefly pose: back body
Illustration: Chris Macivor
  • The serratus anterior, attached at the side of the rib cage and along the shoulder blade, draws the shoulder blades forward, stretching the trapezius and rhomboids.
  • The infraspinatus and teres minor turn the humerus (upper arm bone) outward to increase shoulder stability.
  • The triceps straighten the elbows. The quadriceps straighten the knees.
  • The adductor group squeezes the thighs into the upper arms, connecting the upper and lower body.
  • The peronius longus and brevis muscles exert the ankle to open the soles of the feet.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions by Ray Long

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Put Firefly into practice

Play with Arm Balancing in This Tortoise Pose-to-Firefly Transition with a Chair

5 Cool Ways to Use Props for Arm Balances


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.