I started out my yoga journey with a far more mellow and meditative practice, so arm balances have only been part of my world for the past 18 months. I have to admit I had a lot of resistance to them at first, largely ego and fear-based, but I’ve now come to adore them for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, they need all of me to show up on the mat, so if my mind’s off wandering around somewhere outside the studio, chances are I’ll land on my face. Arm balances are also an amazing way to tap into my inner power source, so they ignite my sense of determination and willpower. They also help me laugh in the face of fear when it seduces me and tells me to stay attached to the ground.
While I haven’t quite mastered the perfect Scorpion, Handstand, or Forearm Balance, I have made friends with them. And I’ve recently become well acquainted with their cousins, Firefly and Flying Pigeon too. It took me a while, but reflecting back, there were some key things that really made a difference in my quest to get airborne. I hope they work for you too!
1. Create A Broad Foundation.
Have you ever watched a baby finding its feet? It’s kinda the same for adults trying to find their arm balance. Standing, if we try to balance on just the heels or the toes, becomes a lot more challenging than flat feet because the foundation surface area is much smaller.
So for poses where we’re balancing the weight of the body on the hands, like Crow, Side Crow, Handstand, Firefly and Side Plank etc, we need to make sure we give ourselves a really solid, broad foundation. Spread the fingers wide and use the 5 finger pads as well as the 4 corners of the hand, particularly the area at the base of the fingers.
And on that point, take care not to bear the weight into the heel of the hand as that can lead to wrist injury. When you reach the point of liftoff, your broader foundation should help you find more balance.
2. Power Up From Your Core.
A powerful core is essential for arm balances. It’s easy to take all the energy and effort up into the mind because we’re concentrating so hard on “getting it,” but you’ll find it much easier when you engage the muscles of the core, and the pelvic floor. Think of drawing your navel in towards your spine and your pelvic floor muscles up.
When you do that, you take strength, energy and your focus into the middle of the pose which of course helps with control, stability and with balance.
Okay this may sound a little obvious, but honestly when we’re focusing so hard on trying to master something, we tend to hold on to the breath. Breathing will help us stay relaxed and it will lead our focus back to the present moment if it’s wandered off. It will also help us stay alive, a very significant piece of the puzzle.
4. Get Your Mind Working For You, Not Against You.
Please don’t give in to the ego and let it tell you you’ll never be able to do arm balances. If you want to, you can, and you will. You just need to get your mind working for you, instead of against you.
Let go of words like can’t and won’t and replace with positive language. “I can do Crow Pose.” “I will master Forearm Balance.” I had a picture of Kathryn Budig doing Firefly on my vision board for a year, and then finally flew into it properly last week. A positive mindset works.
5. Be Patient.
I totally understand that the success you feel when you lift off the ground is awesome, but getting to that point can take months or years of practice. Arm balances are challenging. You need a combination of strength, flexibility and coordination, not to mention the challenge of a fearful mindset.
You can think of your arm balance journey as if you’re climbing a mountain. You can’t just click your heels and be at the top, you need to take your time and embrace each step. Be patient with yourself and remember that being able to get up into Firefly doesn’t make you a better person, it just means you can get up into Firefly.
In my experience, arm balances teach me a lot about what’s happening inside. They also give me an experiential way of working on focus and balance, and they keep my practice playful. Need any more reasons to keep working on them?