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Arm Balance Yoga Poses

Yes, You Can Come Into Visvamitrasana

Here's how to set yourself up for success in this arm balance—a mashup of Side Plank and Compass Pose.

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My teacher once jokingly reminded us that yoga is called a “practice” and not a “perfect.” To me, no pose exemplifies that adage more than Visvamitrasana (Pose Dedicated to Visvamitra or Visvamitra’s Twist), a challenging arm balance that demands the balance and strength of Vasisthasana (Side Plank)  along with the foothold and flexibility of Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose).

Patience should also be added to the list of attributes that both yoga and this pose require, seeing as you must first become well-versed in other challenging arm balances and twists prior to landing yourself in a safe and aligned version of it.

Watch: A Step-by-Step Practice to Visvamitrasana

How did Visvamitrasana get its name?

Visvamitrasana is named for the sage Visvamitra, whose story is long and filled with as many missteps as successes. Legend has it that Visvamitra was jealous of the great rishi (sage) Vasishta, who was one of the seven great rishis of India and the author of the Rigveda. Visvamitra tried to outdo his elder for years before finally being recognized in his own right for his wisdom.

It’s little surprise that Vasisthasana (Side Plank), the pose named after the elder, must be mastered before one can come into the more complicated extension of created by someone who was less senior. These poses progress not only in terms of difficulty but also along the lineage of teachers. In each of the poses’ shapes, you can easily see the “staff” that sages used in the straight arm relied upon for balance.

How this sequence prepares you for Visvamitrasana

This challenging sequence breaks down the critical elements you need in Visvamitrasana by creating the same shapes and muscle engagements in different poses prior to attempting the actual challenge pose. The learning process reminds us that sometimes our desired destination requires long periods of study, repetition, a few missteps from which we must recover, as well as dedication.

See also: How to Cross These 4 Challenging Yoga Poses Off Your Bucket List

Warmup

Practice Cat and Cow Pose, some wrist warm-ups, and 3 Sun Salutation As and 3 Sun Salutation Bs to prepare. Once it feels easy to remain in Plank Pose for 5 slow breaths, you’re ready to play with this challenging side plank-based practice. Start at the front of your mat in Uttanasa (Standing Forward Bend).

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

From Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), step your left foot back to a lunge and lower that knee down to the mat. Pivot on your left knee to slide your left foot 90 degrees to the right like a kickstand. Straighten your right leg toward the front of the mat. Turn your upper body to face the left long side of the mat and flex your right foot so your toes are pointed toward the sky. Inhale your arms up and then stretch to the right, lightly placing your right hand on your thigh, calf, foot, or toes. Breathe deeply into your left side and remain here for 5–8 breaths. You have the option of swaying gently side to side, staying curious as to where the expanse feels good in your side body.

Release both hands to the floor and walk yourself to face the front of the mat. Come to your hands and knees. Repeat on the second side. Move through a vinyasa and come to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Variation

From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot forward to the outside of your right hand and turn the outer edge of your left foot down. Inhale and sweep your arms up for a wide-stance Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I). Lace your hands behind your back with your right thumb on top. Inhale broadly across your chest, then exhale, bend at your hips, and fold into Humble Warrior. Your right shoulder should touch your right knee. In time, your shoulder can come closer inside or underneath the knee and your head might even touch the ground. Squeeze your knee into your shoulder to prevent your thigh from opening in abduction. Your core should be engaged slightly (Uddiyana Banda). Remain here for 5 breaths. Carefully release the bind and place both hands on the inside of your right foot to come into Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge).

Prep for Visvamitrasana: When you press your shoulder into your knee and your knee into your shoulder, you are preparing for the same alignment that will take place in the peak pose of this sequence. This is the type of prep work that subtly prepares the body for the later challenge pose.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Ardha Hanumanasana, Variation (Half Splits)

From Low Lunge, release your back knee to the mat and keep your back toes tucked. Straighten your front leg, shift your hips slightly back, and release your hands on either side of the front leg as you lean forward for Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Monkey or Half Splits). In this variation, rotate your right leg slightly to the right and point your toes. Remain here for about 8 breaths. Allow your upper body to become heavy and release toward the earth. Your right shoulder can perhaps once again touch your inner knee.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

From Half Splits, walk your hands back beneath your shoulder and bend your front knee. Bring your right leg up and back into Downward-Facing Dog with your right leg lifted behind you. Shake that leg out a little. Exhale and step your right foot between your hands for Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II). Inhale and rise to bring your arms parallel to the mat. Keep your legs in place and come into Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) by placing your right hand on the inside of your right foot or on a block. Retract your shoulder blades by pulling them toward one another and press your right arm into your right knee.

Prep for Visvamitrasana: When you press your shoulder into your knee and your knee into your shoulder, you are preparing for the same alignment that will take place in the peak pose of this sequence. This is the type of prep work that subtly prepares the body for the later challenge pose.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Skandasana (Pose Dedicated to the God of War or Side Lunge)

Named for a great warrior, Skandāsana takes both strength and flexibility. From Extended Side Angle, exhale and lift up to Warrior II. Inhale, straighten both legs, and turning both feet out 45 degrees. Bend your left knee, and bring your seat down toward your left heel. You might need to bring your hands to the mat for balance.

Make the pose more accessible: This pose requires a deep flexion of your bent knee, and some practitioners will choose to pause halfway. To do this, place your left fingertips out to the side, and—without force—brace your arm against your inner left thigh to encourage your hip to open. Remain here for 5 breaths.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Seated Side Stretch Variation

From Side Lunge, rest your hands on the mat. Keep your legs in the same position as you gently sit your bum on the mat. Place your right hand on your left shin above the ankle, bend your right elbow as you lift your left arm up. Reach your left arm up and over toward your straight leg. Allow your left hip to slightly lift with the movement. Once again, direct your right shoulder toward the inside of your right knee.

Make the pose more accessible: Like all postures in this sequence, this is a “journey” pose. If you experience any change in your flexibility, it will likely happen after a dedicated practice of months or years. Try to remain curious and breathe deeply along the way.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)

Release the bind, unwind yourself, and bring both hands to the mat. Walk around to the front of the mat and come into Low Lunge. Ground your left hand with your wrist just under your shoulder to build the base of the “staff” of the pose, and lift your right arm up to complete it. As you roll to the outer edge of your left foot and bear weight on your left hand, swing your right foot back and stack it on top of the left, completing a second staff with your legs stacked. Remain here for 5 breaths.

Slowly lower your left hand to the mat and take a vinyasa. Repeat 2–7 with your left foot forward. Come to Downward-Facing Dog.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Utthan Pristhasana, Variation (Lizard Pose)

From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot outside of your right hand and lower your back knee to the mat. Place both palms or elbows down on the mat or blocks to come into Lizard Pose. Stay here for 5 breaths.

Take the pose further: If your right knee is higher than your shoulder, that’s your invitation to play with the variation pictured above. Use your right hand to sneak your right shoulder under the knee. Walk both hands out on the ground until your arms are long and angled slightly behind you, like an airplane’s wings. Engage your core, lengthen your back leg, and “fly” your arms out to the sides for 5 breaths.

(Photo: Renee Choi)

Visvamitrasana, Variation

From Lizard Pose, place your hands down again and lower your back knee to the mat. Kickstand your back foot behind you to the right, as you did in Gate Pose, to create more stability. Shift your body weight into your right hand, which is the base of your “staff.” Come onto the ball of your right foot. Wrap your left hand over the top side of your right foot and lift that foot up, keeping your right knee bent around your arm like a hook.

Take the pose further: To achieve the pose pictured above, as long as you can breathe, begin to straighten your right leg, peaking underneath your left arm as pictured.

Visvamitrasana (Visvamitra’s Twist)

Another option, pictured above, is to lengthen both legs in the pose. To play with it, lower your back knee to the mat and be sure that your right shoulder is nuzzled underneath your right knee and your right hand is planted and ready to bear weight. Lift your back knee and pivot the outer edge of your back foot down just like in Warrior I.

Come onto the ball of your right foot. Wrap your left hand over the top side of your right foot and lift that foot up, keeping your right knee bent around your arm like a hook.

Take the pose further: To achieve the pose pictured above, as long as you can breathe, begin to straighten your right leg, peaking underneath your left arm as pictured. Your hips will want to shift toward the ground. Press down into your right hand to keep them up! Just as Viśvāmitra’s winding story pays tribute to older sage Vasishta’s strength, this pose relies on the strength of your side plank “staff.”

Repeat 8, 9, and 10 on your left side and then cool down.

Cool down

After practicing the peak pose, linger in some seated forward bends. Ground your low back onto the mat in Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose). Release in an easy reclined twist. Once your breath is calm, repair yourself in a long Savasana.

See also: Overcoming Your Fear of Face-Planting in Arm Balances Might Be Easier Than You Think