I am not the most acrobatic yogi. When a teacher tells me to float to the top of my mat, my float is more of a too-fast thump. Plus, thanks to my hypermobile elbows and bendy lower back, Handstand in the middle of the room continues to be my nemesis.
Arm balances, however, are an exception. They are a rare moment in my practice where I feel like I can truly fly.
I fell on my tush (and face!) plenty of times over the years. It took some dedication and experimentation to figure out the secret to balancing. And I’m here to fill you in on a few secrets. A key component to arm balancing is figuring where your center of gravity should be, and because no arm balance is alike—in some, the body is compact; in others, we are spread in a split—it took a lot of trial and error to find the perfect equation of engagement and length to achieve flight.
The center point upon which things balance is called a fulcrum. Arm balances are like a see-saw: When the weight on one end is heavier, that side falls to the floor. If you have equal weight on both sides, you (like a seesaw) will hover.
Experimenting with props was extremely informative for improving my understanding of this concept in arm balances. Chairs, blocks, bolsters, and even the wall can provide support for one end of the body, ultimately making it lighter so you can figure out where your fulcrum is. Having support allows you to stay in the pose longer, so you can get the benefits of the shape without strain. Props also make poses more accessible and can be particularly helpful for people who do not yet have the strength or length necessary to make the full shape.
Here are five fun ways to use props for arm balancing. Just keep in mind that arm balances are generally taught at the peak of a sequence, when you’re most warm. Before playing with these different variations, be sure to warm up your hamstrings and shoulder girdle sufficiently.
Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Props needed: wall
Bakasana is a blueprint for many other arm balances. It is generally one of the first that practitioners learn because your body is symmetrical in this pose and your knees are bent, so it requires less flexibility. This pose is a great way to feel that first inkling of flight. A common misalignment, however, is letting your bum stick up in the air. You might do this when you point your head and chest downward, as it is easier to get your feet up when the front body is going down. Using a wall to support the crown of your head keeps your gaze ahead of your hands and your heart reaching, without letting your butt stick up too much.
How-to: Start one foot from the wall (or closer, depending your height). Squat down with your big toes and ankles touching, spread your knees, and sneak your shoulders between your inner thighs as high as possible. Keep your inner thighs and outer upper arms squeezing together rather than resting on your shins, which activates your pelvic floor and lower belly and will help you keep your legs high on your arms. Place your hands shoulder-width apart and slightly ahead of your shoulders. Rise to your tip toes, careful not to lift your bum, and begin to bend your elbows. Shift forward with your chest until the crown of your head presses into the wall. Try lifting one foot or both feet by tightly squeezing your calf and thigh together. Stay here for 5 full breaths. To come out, lower one foot at a time. Rest a moment before giving it another go.