Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Despite years of practicing yoga in studios, Iris Marku was accustomed, whenever a teacher cued the class into an arm balance, to instead sit back on her heels and watch as other students leaned forward, their faces intimidatingly close to the wood floor.
After the studio she attended closed in 2019, Marku began to orchestrate yoga classes with some girlfriends at her home. Furniture shoved aside, they proceeded to practice, and when the teacher offered the option to come into Bakasana (Crow Pose)—an arm balance in which you squat, place your hands on your mat beneath your shoulders, and slowly shift your weight forward—Marku initially sat back, as she had without fail for years, and watched with the same feeling of fear welling in her chest.
A moment later, she glanced around, tossed some pillows from her couch on her mat, and attempted a wobbly Bakasana. Marku, who hadn’t attempted an arm balance prior to that day, promptly face-planted into the pillows. She laughed and tried it again. And a third time as well.
“What’s scary to me in the pose, it’s not the arm strength, it’s that leap of faith into the unknown when you’re suspended above the floor,” says Marku, 42, a nurse practitioner, mother of three, and, in her spare moments, yoga enthusiast. “In life as well, I’m struggling with that courage. To fall on my face is scary. Arm balances are different than all the other yoga poses. They take a different kind of strength.”
Fear happens. And as much as self-help blogs and social media posts everywhere tell you to face your fears, to lean into discomfort, to experience the anxiety rather than push it away, it’s understandable to experience a little hesitation. After all, that floor is hard.
While fear may be inescapable, it is possible to find a way to eradicate, or at least mitigate, the anxiety and assure yourself of a cushy landing for the inevitable face-plant. Within a couple of weeks, Marku was able to steadily balance on her arms in Crow Pose—first with one foot still touching the mat for balance and, eventually, both heels lifted toward her hips—amid cheers from her girlfriends.
“In that moment, it’s exhilarating. It feels like an immense accomplishment,” says Marku. “The pillow is a confidence booster. Whatever it is, whatever it provides, it’s more than just a physical boost. It’s what I need to feel safe.”
It may take a lot less than you’d ever thought to make the previously unimaginable more approachable. And with arm balances, it may be as simple as trying them at home. Pillows included.
Other reasons why it’s easier to attempt arm balances at home
There are several other advantages to practicing at home that can make any attempt at an arm balance less intimidating. Consider the following:
No one is watching
When you’re in a class setting and you’re trying something for the first time, it can feel like everyone’s attention is on you. In truth, no one else is watching or waiting to ridicule you. They’re entirely absorbed by what they’re experiencing on their mats, which often is the exact same thing you’re experiencing. Still, the thought that others may be observing you can be rattling. When you practice at home, you are absolutely assured that no one is watching.
You can take your time
When you practice at home, there’s no teacher continuing with the sequence while you’re still summoning your confidence to lean forward. You can instead take several long, slow breaths, and slowly attempt your arm balance when you’re ready.
When you rush an arm balance, there’s a tendency to lurch yourself forward, which creates instability and further increases your chances of falling forward and face-planting. When you take your time, you can slowly ease your way into it, leaning ahead a little at a time and incrementally shifting your center of gravity, even as you maintain your balance. It’s not a lurch-and-pray situation. It’s a lean-and-listen scenario, in which you remain aware of the subtle knowledge of the body as it tells you whether you need to adjust your weight a little more forward or backward. This knowing comes with time. And practice. Cue the pillows.
You can reach for other props
There’s no shortage of insightful and biomechanically sound advice on how to help your body become accustomed to arm balancing by using blocks beneath you or a wall alongside you. These approaches aren’t cheating. They’re enabling your body to physically experience what it’s like to be in the pose before you’re quite ready. Once your body has that felt sense of which muscles to engage, where to relax, and how to breathe without the added intensity of needing to balance, it will all feel curiously familiar when you do attempt it on your own.
You don’t have to worry about knocking over other students
Sometimes we don’t end up where we intend to when we’re trying something on our mats. And arm balances that require extending the arms or legs can take up a lot of real estate on either side of your mat, making it easy to inadvertently knock into another student at a studio. Chalk up one more advantage to practicing at home (although you may want to be mindful of the placement of your legs in relation to your potted plant—or your toddler).
Arm balances you may want to try at home
Bakasana (Crow Pose)
Known as the beginners’ arm balance, Crow Pose draws your body into a compact shape, which helps you maintain your balance because your center of gravity isn’t being thrown off by arms or legs extending in all directions out of sight. If you already find relative ease in Crow Pose, try straightening your arms (Crane Pose) or attempting Eka Pada Bakasana (Flying Crow or One-Legged Crow Pose), in which one leg is extended behind you.
A twisted take on Crow Pose, this approach requires you to first warm up by lengthening and twisting your body. You can also practice non-yoga exercises that activate and strengthen the same muscles required to come into Side Crow, which again, is something you wouldn’t do at a yoga studio but can take the time for at home.
This pose, which goes by several English names, is a further progression of Side Crow in which you extend, or straighten, your legs while maintaining the balance in your arms. Practice, practice, practice.