Arm balances in yoga are considered more yang (pronounced: yon) in nature, they are active poses that require your attention, focus and muscular energy. Yin poses, on the contrary, are more inward and stretch tissues and muscles. In Yin poses we focus on receiving, stretching and breathing. A mix of Yin and Yang are necessary for a body to be in balance. Both types of poses should encompass a complete practice.
Yoga for Strength
Arm balances both build and require core strength, which creates a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Which comes first? The pose or the building of the strength required for the pose? Consider this: muscles have memory. Each time a new pose is practised, the body remembers and adapts to be able to do the pose. Which means, each time it is practised, a bit of improvement is realized. Once enough strength is built up, the pose is achieved.
Tips for arm balance success:
- Have patience with yourself
- Set a goal to achieve one new pose at a time
- Practice the desired pose often
- Find different ways to get into the pose (one may be easier than another)
- Study someone demonstrating the pose to get a mental image
- Ask a yoga instructor for assistance
Advanced Arm Balances
- Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon)
Below are two ways to get into the pose. Remember: Hands flat on the floor, fingers are spread wide. Set up this strong foundation before trying the different processes below.
- Stand in mountain pose, put all weight on left foot and bend standing leg, and cross the right leg over the left. Fold forward and place hands on the floor, the elbows will be bent like in Chaturanga (bottom of a push-up), and place the right leg onto the upper part of the arms. Stay here and breathe or try and lift the left leg off the floor. Practice this a few times. The head looks forward and the chest comes forward to allow the left leg to lift. Eventually, the left leg will straighten.
- Start on hands and knees and straighten the legs for a shortened Downward Facing Dog. Bend the elbows and come into Sirsasana II (headstand II with tripod arms), extend the legs up for full headstand. While still in headstand bend your right knee and cross it over the left knee. Start to fold forward from the waist and place the right leg onto the backs of the arms. The head is still on the floor and can remain there with the left leg extended or bring the chest forward and lift the head from the floor.
- Astavakrasana (Eight Angle Pose)
Below are two ways to get into the pose. Set up a strong foundation with your arms and fingers the same as above before trying this pose.
- Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front. Right hand takes the right foot and bends it back and places the leg as far up the right arm as possible (maybe even over the shoulder). Hug the leg to the arm strongly and let go of the foot. Place both hands on the floor on either side of the hips and straighten the arms, lift the pelvis off the floor. Lift the left leg off the floor and cross the ankles, hugging strongly with the inner thigh muscles (the right arm will be between the legs for support). Straighten the legs out to the right, bend the arms and bring the chest forward.
- Sit on the floor with the torso facing front and the legs to the right. Cross the ankles and slightly bend the knees. Put the right hand through the space just above the knees and bend the arms placing the right inner thigh on the back of the right arm. Lean forward with the torso and pick the legs up off the floor.
Then try the other sides by reversing the directions and the legs. The photos in this article show the final poses but the Yoga Journal website shows a nice step-by-step of photos for both Eka Pada Galavasana and Astavakrasana.