A commonly asked question is how the intense arm balance known as Titibasana (Firefly Pose) came to be named after a tiny insect. The enchantment of the firefly, which is believed to be a good omen, comes entirely from its ability to generate its own light from within. Noting this helps to explain why the magical creature seems a fitting inspiration for a pose that demands deep core energy, an ability to draw one’s energy toward the center, and a tremendous amount of practice to appear so effortless.
Although rightly classified as an arm balance, Firefly is also part of a family of deep forward folds—including Squat, Lizard, Tortoise, and standing Firefly—in which the spine is flexed. In some folds, including Firefly, the legs are in straddle position, which challenges the abductors. These muscle groups tend to be neglected in our everyday movements. In this sequence, that lengthening is repeated throughout the sequence in various shapes, including Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana (Compass Pose), modified Hanumanasana (Monkey or Splits) or Ardha Hanumanasana (Half Splits), and more.
Now for that inner fire: To add the balance of Firefly to the shapes above, the practitioner must press down into their hands, engage the core to resist gravity, and hug the legs to the arms in hip adduction while at the same time bracing the arms against this pressure. All the things! In this sequence, you practice them progressively, one at a time. And, like dancing at dusk, playfulness is an ideal frame of mind to use when learning this posture.
How to come into Firefly Pose
You’ve got to be game to sit your butt back and use your arms like a shelf to enter the pose. Sound a little fearsome? Kids do this kind of thing every day! Staying playful relieves us of the onus to get it right straight away. Stay playful, stay flexible, and stay with your practice.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby) flow to straddle
How it prepares you: Inexact circular movements in your hips when you are not bearing weight are great for increasing joint mobility.
How to: Begin your warmup in play by lying on your back in Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby). Gently ground your low back to the mat and rock to the left and right a few times. Come back to center and press your feet up toward the ceiling into your hands, as if you were resisting the pose, which can help your sacrum release into the mat. On an inhale, start to straighten one leg out to the side in a half straddle, then bend that knee again and start to straighten the other. Feel free to slide your hand from your foot to your leg or to rock side to side or to open both legs at the same time.
Take a Reclining Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist) on each side, then make your way to hands and knees. Circle your upper body to warm up the wrists and hands, then flip your hands so fingers point toward your knees. Take some time in Marjaryasana (Cat Pose) and Bitilasana (Cow Pose) and then turn your hands to face the front of the mat and come into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).
Chaturanga Dandasana with blocks
How it prepares you: Notice those right angles in the arms? That’s a valuable prerequisite skill for almost all arm balances, including Firefly. Blocks help in this pose not to support you but as a reminder to take your shoulders no lower than your elbows. Less is definitely more.
Your elbows do not need to touch your sides—there’s too much variation in the angle of the elbows to the wrists (this is what’s referred to as your “carrying angle”) among all of us to mandate that. Just practice a muscular drawing in of your arms, whether your elbows touch your sides or not.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, move forward to Plank Pose, lower your knees, and place blocks on their medium or highest level toward the front of the mat. Angle the inner edges of the blocks toward the front of the mat so they look like surprised eyebrows. Place your fingertips behind each block and lower your shoulders to the blocks. Keep your elbows drawn in toward your sides as you straighten your legs to come into Chaturanga Dandsasana.
How to deepen the pose: If you want a core challenge, consider bringing one arm alongside your body like a ski jumper. When you feel stable on the blocks, add the second arm. Keep breathing! This is a powerful practice I like to call a Chaturanga Cleanup. It trains the abs to recruit in the pose instead of relying on the hips to lift or the shoulders to take a nosedive. Start with 3 breaths and build up to 5. Repeat up to 3 times. Return your hand to the mat.
From Chaturanga Dandasana, flow through Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A) 3 times, paying special care not to dip your shoulders lower the elbows in Chaturanga or to let that angle slip past 90 degrees. Come to Downward-Facing Dog.
Low Lunge flow
How it prepares you: This position stretches your hamstrings. If it’s comfortable for you, it can also be a shoulder stretch and preparation for the arm balance if you bend your elbows and bring your forearms toward the mat, approaching another right angle in the arms.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, step your right foot outside of your right hand, and then slide your hands a little closer to the back of the mat. Inhale, start to straighten your front leg, and let your upper body surrender toward the earth. Keep as much of a bend in your front knee as needed but keep your back heel lifted. Release and repeat, rocking back and forth between bent and extended front knee, at least 5 times, straightening your leg a touch more every time. Come back to a bent front knee.
Prasarita Padottanasana A (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
How it prepares you: Similar to the last pose, this position stretches your hamstrings and creates the same shape in your arms as Firefly. It comes close to mimicking the entire pose of Firefly.
How to: From Low Lunge, on an exhale, walk your hands around to the left long edge of your mat, and lengthen the legs in a straddle fold. Bring your feet parallel to one another and line up your wrists with your heels in Prasarita Padottanasana A. Squeeze your elbows in, making another right angle with your arms. At the same time, isometrically squeeze the feet in toward one another, as if to bunch up your mat. Practice this feeling of hugging inward for at least 5 breaths.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle)
How it prepares you: The action of bracing your arm into your leg and vice versa also shows up in Firefly Pose.
How to: From Prasarita Padottanasana, on an inhale, lengthen your spine and lift your head, then exhale and pivot back to a Low Lunge facing the front of the mat. Ground your back heel down and brace your right arm against your inner right calf with your hand on the floor or on a block. Inhale and lift your left arm, opening your chest toward the long side of the mat in Extended Side Angle Pose.
Now that your left arm is free from weight-bearing, play with making circles with it and eventually reaching the arm alongside your ear toward the front of the mat. Take about 5 breaths of exploration, gazing anywhere that makes your neck feel free and comfortable.
From Extended Side Angle, plant your hands on the mat, step back to Plank Pose, and flow through a vinyasa. Come to Downward-Facing Dog.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
How it prepares you: This stretch demands intense hip adduction in the form of a “hugging in” action, which is needed in Firefly Pose.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, lift your right leg and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand—as much as 2–4 inches in front of it if you have the space. Move your hands back a touch and lower the back knee to the mat. Begin to bend and soften the elbows down toward the mat or a block. Let gravity do the work of relaxing your upper body toward the earth—all the while squeezing your right knee toward your right shoulder.
How to deepen the pose: Consider angling your elbows out to the sides and allow your head and chest to release further toward the ground.
Hanumanasana (Monkey or Splits), variation
How it prepares you: You do not have to come into the full expression of this variation of splits, as it definitely varies from the norm! So go slowly, and certainly without force. Some practitioners find this variation with legs wider apart easier, but I’d still strongly suggest going slowly to listen to the body’s messages. Take your time and give the pose your attention and breath.
This variation of Hanumanasana expresses much of the same shape in the hips and legs that is required by Firefly.
How to: From Lizard, press into your hands to lift your upper body, and shift your hips toward the wall behind you so your left hip stacks over your left knee. Instead of bringing your right heel in line with your right hip, keep it slightly out to the side. On an exhale, straighten your front leg and lower your upper body to the inside of your leg. Your front leg will extend out to the side as if pointing at 1 pm. on your personal clock. Remain here for 5–8 breaths.
How to deepen the pose: On an exhale, slide your front heel forward and slightly to the right so your leg straightens. Use blocks under your hands so you can control your descent. If your body is responsive, you can forward fold with your chest to the mat. Breathe for 5–8 breaths. When you exit the shape, use your hands and core to slowly slide your front heel back.
Take a few easy shakes of your leg and flow through a vinyasa. Hop or step to the front of the mat and step your right foot back to Low Lunge. Begin the second side with Low Lunge flow, and move through Hanumanasana on the second side. Repeat the vinyasa and end in Downward-Facing Dog. Lower your knees to the mat and take several breaths in Balasana (Child’s Pose). Feel your low back lengthen in this introspective pose. When you’re ready, come to Downward-Facing Dog, make your way to the front of the mat, and bend your knees deeply to slowly roll to standing in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
How it prepares you: This pose is yet another way to practice hip abduction and creating right angles in your elbows, both of which are demanded by Firefly.
How to: From Mountain Pose, find a gaze point—or drishti—that is grounded and steady on the floor several feet ahead of you. Inhale and lift your arms, then exhale and wrap your arms with the right arm underneath the left, as if you’re giving yourself a hug. You can practice with your arms wrapped and the fingertips on the shoulder blades, or you can play with lifting your hands to prayer and bringing your pinky fingers toward the wall in front of you. Personally, I spent a year or so just holding onto a pinkie finger before my hands wanted to eventually come into prayer mudra.
Sit back as if into a chair and lift your right leg to wrap it around the left leg, squeezing the thighs together. You might be able to sneak your toes around the back of the calf. On an inhale, lift your elbows and then hinge at the hips to fold over the legs. Often, with practice, the armpits can fit over the knees, a potentially calming expression of the Sacred Geometry of body. Breathe deeply and slowly here, hugging toward your center for 5 or so breaths.
To transition out of Eagle Pose, slowly lift yourself upright. Then unwind all your limbs and come to standing in Mountain Pose. Take a few breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Malasana (Garland or Squat)
How it prepares you: This pose is an intense hip opener and again reinforces the squeezing of the thighs and legs into each other.
How to: Parallel your feet as wide as the mat. With your hands in prayer, sit your seat back to a half squat. If your knees allow, completely bend them and bring your seat toward the earth in Malasana (Garland or Squat). Press your upper arms into your thighs and your thighs into your upper arms, feeling the secure connection. Lengthen the spine long, lifting the crown of your head energetically towards the sky for 5–8 breaths. Then exhale and lift your hips to hinge into a Wide-Legged Forward Bend. Play with swaying the upper body, bringing length and ease to your low back.
Utthita Tittibhasana (Standing Firefly Pose)
How it prepares you: Now here’s where that playful spirit comes in handy! Once again, a different iteration of the same Firefly shape.
How to: From Malasana, bend your knees a bit and hook your hands to the back of your shins. Play with looking through your legs by potentially nudging your shoulders between your thighs or near the inner knees—just about to where they were in Malasana Pose. You can seesaw forward and backward, working the shoulders into the inner legs for this standing variation of Firefly. Remain here for 5–8 breaths that only a yoga practitioner could love.
Step back to Plank Pose and flow through a vinyasa.
Parivrtta Surya Yantrāsana (Compass Pose)
How it prepares you: This pose brings you the benefits of a more flexible lower back and hamstrings.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, make your way to a seat on the mat. Bend your left knee and literally pick up your right calf with both hands. Round your back as if you were in Cat Pose and try to sneak your right shoulder under your knee. Use your hands to hook the right leg over the right shoulder like the strap of a backpack. With your right knee bent, loop your left hand over the shoelace side of your right foot. Place your right hand out to the side like a kickstand, and brace your right arm against the leg once more. Begin to straighten your right leg and play with peaking under your left arm. Even if your leg never fully straightens, you are still gaining benefits. Remain here for 5 breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
Vikasita Kamalāsana (Blossoming Lotus), variation
How it prepares you: This intense hip opener expands on the previous stretches.
How to: From seated on the mat, lean back slightly to shift the weight toward your tailbone and lift your legs as if to practice Navasana (Boat Pose). Scoop your arms underneath your thighs First flare your toes with your heels together, then cross the feet at the ankles and hook the feet. Practice for 5 breaths or so, then place the hands down with your arms still under the legs.
How to deepen the pose: Take the jnana mudra, which is known as a gesture of consciousness, by bringing the tips of your first fingers and your thumbs together.
How it prepares you: This gives you different experience of bracing your arms against your legs.
How to: From Blossoming Lotus, unhook your ankles and begin to extend your legs forward and out on the ground in a V. Slide your hands out and slide them toward the back of your mat as you go in a V facing the opposite direction. As you lower, you can slow your roll by resisting the slide of the heels forward with your legs, and can certainly add a bolster or pillow underneath your chest and head as you learn this pose. Remain in the shape for 5–8 breaths.
Full disclosure: There is not an elegant way to exit Tortoise Pose! Keep breathing as you press your hands against the earth, bend your knees, and start to slither one arm out from beneath your legs, and then the other. As a counter pose, place your hands behind you, plant your feet hip-distance apart, and lift your hips for 3–5 breaths to release the front of your hips in Reverse Tabletop. Then take a seat, swing your feet back, and come to Plank before you take a vinyasa.
How it prepares you: You’re almost there! This pose incorporates many of the most critical elements of previous poses, including the hip-opening and the bracing of the arms and the legs against one another, which are critical to coming into and maintaining Firefly Pose.
How to: From Downward-Facing Dog, step or jump your feet to the outside of your hands and take the same approach you used for Standing Firefly to snuggle your shoulders to the inside of your legs. Bend your knees deeply and look between your legs at the back of the mat. Place your hands down, shoulder-distance apart, with your fingers pointing forward, just like in all those Chaturangas. If the floor is too far away, place 2 blocks where your hands will be to bring the floor to you. (Note that soft blocks here, as opposed to hard blocks, create a more acute angle in the wrists, which is not ideal.)
Bend your knees a lot. Bend your elbows a lot. Squeeze your knees and elbows energetically toward one another at a right angle. Your upper arms are creating a shelf—take a seat on it. If it sounds impossible, remind yourself that it’s all just for play. When you feel confident to sit back, your feet will lift off the earth like one side of a seesaw. Hook your feet, look forward, and hug your thighs into the arms. The arms press back into the legs. Have fun with it! The worst that can happen is that your seat earns its name and slides to the mat. If that happens, try it again, being sure to bend your elbows enough to make a solid shelf for your seat, and hug your thighs in to stay in the pose.
Transition to Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), and take a little break for your wrists by slipping your hands under your feet in Pada Hastasana (Foot-to-Hand Pose). Breathe, massage your hands with your feet, and traction your wrists.
Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) With Blocks
How to: And now to light that inner fire. Take the same approach that you used in Shoulder-Pressing Pose with blocks beneath your hands to make the ground lift to meet you. Bend your knees, bend your elbows, and sit back! When your feet become light, press your hands down, point your toes, and lengthen your legs—all while hugging your thighs inward and bracing your arms against them. Look forward, and when you are ready to exit, bend your knees to place your feet down.
To deepen the pose: Here we see Tittibhasana with your hands on the mat. (One benefit of this variation is that your butt is closer to the floor if you slide out of it!) To lengthen your arms as shown, press your hands into the mat as you simultaneously hug your thighs inward.
To counter the deep forward fold of Firefly, lie down on your back for about 5 breaths. Then practice Setu Bandasana (Bridge Pose) to open across the front of your hips for 5–8 breaths.
Matsyendrasana (Supported Fish Pose)
Place a block behind your mid-back for supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose) (pictured) or place a pillow or bolster lengthwise beneath your spine to gently open across your chest for a couple of minutes.
From Matsyendrasana, prepare for Savasana by hugging in the right knee in toward your chest, then shifting it across your chest to the left of your mat for a Supine Spinal Twist. Open your right arm out to the side. Allow the weight of your right arm to open the right side of your chest for at least 5 breaths. Linger in this stretch on the other side.
In Savasana, consider opening your arms and legs wider than mat’s width, allowing for openness across the hips, shoulders, and chest. Rest and enjoy the feeling of opening across the front of the body as you imagine that inner light softly expanding outward.
See also: Yes, You Can Come Into Visvamitrasana
About our contributor
Dana Slamp is a writer, a certified yoga therapist, and the Founder of Prema Yoga Institute, New York’s IAYT-accredited yoga therapy school. Her background in the arts and spirituality informs all that she creates. Dana has presented at Yoga Journal Conference, Telluride Yoga Festival, and teaches retreats and workshops internationally. She’s delighted to offer the IAY Yoga Therapy Program, an online RYT500 course and more alongside PYI’s diverse faculty at www.premayogainstitute.com. A self-confessed “Dog Mom,” Dana currently lives near Central Park with her dog Cooper. For online classes with Dana, check out Equinox+ and YogaAnytime.