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With careful emphasis on technique and strategic preparatory poses, you will find the energy to move beyond your limits one breath at a time.
Arm balances are all about mental and physical endurance. Working toward a pose like Bhujapidasana (Shoulder-Pressing Pose) can make you feel like you’ve hit a wall. But with careful emphasis on technique and strategic preparatory poses, you will find the energy to move beyond your limits slowly—one breath at a time.
Each time you feel that you’ve reached a limit, ask yourself whether it is mental or physical. If it’s mental and your body feels OK, ask yourself if you can stay for one more breath. If it’s physical, back off and focus on one of the preparatory poses instead.
When I was learning Bhujapidasana, I fell out of the pose more times and in more ways than I could count. It’s not important how many times you fall, just that you get back up and try again each time. Stay positive, focus on the technique, and enjoy the process of building strength and you will make progress on the inner journey each time you practice.
1. Prasarita Padottanasana A
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Start with your feet wide enough apart to allow your head to touch the ground yet maintain the foundation of the pose. The longer your legs, the wider your stance. Exhale as you pivot from the hips and slide the torso between the thighs, reaching the hands past the feet if possible. If tight hamstrings or lower back keep you from reaching the floor, just go as far as possible without forcing. Keep the low belly sucked in, the thighs firmly engaged, and sitting bones drawing simultaneously upward and toward each other. Activate the inner thighs to avoid dumping weight into the outer edges of the ankles. Track the elbows in line with the shoulders and engage the shoulder girdle while transferring weight slightly onto the top of the head. Gaze at the tip of the nose. Deepening this pose will help encourage the greater hip flexion required for Bhujapidasana.
2. Marichyasana I
Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I
Starting off in Dandasana, draw the right leg in, bend the knee, and plant the foot in line with the outer edge of the right hip joint, leaving a hand’s distance between your right foot and your left thigh. Exhale as you slide the torso forward while drawing the right knee back. Internally rotate your shoulders to wrap the right shoulder around the right shin while the left arm reaches back. Clasp the fingers or grab the wrist behind you to bind the pose. Exhale as you fold, reaching your sternum toward the left knee while allowing the right sitting bone to rise slightly to facilitate this forward fold. Keep the left leg engaged and reach outward with the ball of the left foot. Activate the pelvic floor and keep the lower belly drawn in. Stay for 5 breaths, then repeat on the left side.
3. Eka Hasta Bhujasana
Elephant’s Trunk Pose
This arm balance is an important transition building up to Bhujapidasana because it strengthens the wrists and core. Starting in Dandasana, exhale as you bend your right knee and lift the right foot off the ground. Using your hands wrap your right knee around the outer edge of your right shoulder and hook the calf muscle as close to your right shoulder as possible. Use your core to keep the leg in place engaging through the hip flexors and the lower abs. Next point your right foot forward in line with your shoulders. Plant your hands firmly down a few inches forward of your hips. Exhale and stabilize the shoulders. Inhale and press from the shoulders while pulling in from your core to lift the hips off the ground. Engage the core even more as you draw your hips back to lift your left leg off the ground. If the left leg does not come off the ground, simply work at keeping your hips lifted. Stay for 5 breaths and then repeat on the left side.
You can never do enough of this foundational core strengthener. Starting in Dandasana, inhale as you lift the legs by drawing the heads of the femurs into their sockets and drawing in the lower belly. Keep the hands in line with the shoulders and gaze toward the feet. Straighten the legs as much as possible by drawing the inner thighs toward each other and lifting the kneecaps. Stay for 5 deep breaths.
LIFT UP Exhale as you place the hands on the floor in front of the hips. Pitch the shoulders forward and engage the core to lift the hips. Repeat 5 times.
See also 7 Poses for Core Strength
For Malasana, take the feet as wide apart as necessary to plant the heels firmly down. Slide the torso between the thighs, same as in Prasarita Padottanasana and Marichyasana I. Place the hands in prayer (Anjali Mudra) at the heart center. Squeeze the thighs actively onto the outsides of the shoulders. Draw the lower belly in. Stay for at least 5 breaths.
6. Bhujapidasana Prep 1
Shoulder-Pressing Pose Prep 1
From Malasana, place your hands on the ground and bend your elbows. Stabilize the shoulder girdle. Lift your hips slightly and walk the feet around and step on the hands. This is the basic preparatory pose that will lead successfully into Bhujapidasana. Stay for 5 breaths before proceeding.
7. Bhujapidasana Prep 2
Shoulder-Pressing Pose Prep 2
To continue wiggle your feet toward each other on the floor. Cross the right ankle over the left while maintaining the bend in the elbows. Avoid falling back by engaging the pelvic floor for balance. Stay for 5 breaths.
8. Bhujapidasana A
Shoulder-Pressing Pose A
Once you have successfully crossed the feet on the floor use the same strength cultivated in Eka Hasta Bhujasana and Navasana to lift up off the ground. Keep the hips lifted by engaging the pelvic floor and lower abs. Bend the elbows slightly to prevent your weight from falling back or straining the wrists. Broaden the collarbone as you gaze forward. Stay for 5 breaths. Once you can successfully balance with your feet crossed in Bhujapidasana A, try pointing the feet while maintaining your balance. Even more Advanced students can consider jumping directly from Downward Dog into this pose.
9. Bhujapidasana B
Shoulder-Pressing Pose B
Starting in Bhujapidasana A, exhale as you tuck your head under and pitch your shoulders forward, aiming the crown of the head toward the ground. Think Prasarita Padottanasana A alignment in the shoulders and top of the head. Keep lifting and engaging to avoid tumbling or dumping your weight forward. Slowly shift into the strength of the shoulders. Keep your feet lifted off the ground as they slide back behind the plane of the wrist. If the feet absolutely cannot lift up from the ground then use the core as much as possible to draw them upward as in the lift up after Navasana. Gaze at your nose and stay for 5 breaths.
10. Full expression of Bhujapidasana B
Shoulder-Pressing Pose B
Advanced students can proceed to the full expression of the pose by aiming the chin toward the ground instead of the top of the head. Don’t rush into this pose. It is easy to dump weight into the chin and destabilize the shoulder girdle. You will know when you are ready to proceed when the first option becomes nearly effortless. When you do, think about grazing the floor with the chin instead of actually resting it there. This will help you maintain the lift through the core and shoulders. Gaze at your nose and stay for 5 breaths. Then inhale and slide your chest forward to return to Bhujapidasana A. The hardest part of the transition is liftting your head again. Don’t rush or get frustrated if you fall backwards. Engage the core, stabilize the shoulders, and keep practicing. When you are able to return comfortably to Bhujapidasana A, then exhale as you release the feet and take back your legs to Bakasana. Inhale to lift up from there and exhale to jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana to complete the pose.
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About Kino MacGregor
Kino MacGregor is a self-professed Handstand lover (just check out her Instagrams). She’s also a Pattabhi Jois-certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher who travels worldwide, author of three books, featured in six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, and YogaVibes, and co-founder of Miami Life Center, where she and her husband Tim Feldmann are based.
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