Here are 3 ways to utilize props in your practice to experience the fun and challenge of arm balance poses…
Arm balance poses can be tricky and challenging for many yogis – especially for us women, who, like it or not, tend to have less upper body strength in general than men do. However, you really don’t have to be Superman (or Superwoman) to do most arm balances in yoga. The real trick is figuring out where your center of gravity needs to be, and then learning to balance correctly for your body shape and size.
In most arm balance poses, your arms are used as a fulcrum for you to balance on, so once you are able to figure out how to get equal weight on both sides, you will be able to hover with the best of them. However, in the meantime, props can be extremely useful for mastering arm balances. Yoga blocks, chairs, bolsters, or a wall can all be used to support parts of the body and help you find your center of gravity. They can also help you stay in poses longer, and are great for those who are still developing the strength and stability necessary to achieve the full pose.
Here are 3 arm balance poses that can be assisted with props. Make sure that you are fully warmed up before attempting these, and you may wish to seek the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor if you are new to these poses.
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
Props needed: Metal Folding Chair + 2 Yoga Blocks
This iconic arm balance takes dedication and fairly open hamstrings. Thankfully, using a chair can help you get the feeling of flying, without needing to be too flexible or strong. Firefly is generally practiced one of two ways: In one version, the bum sinks down, allowing the legs to lift higher, much like wings; in the other version (the one we will do here), the tail and shoulders remain in line, so the legs extend on top of the shoulders. Because we are not weightbearing, this is a great way to practice arm balances if you have a wrist injury.
How-to: Place a metal folding chair in the center of your mat with a block in front of each chair leg. Sit onto the chair and slide yourself back so the full length of your thigh is on the chair. Starting with your knees bent, arms inside your legs, and place your hands on the blocks. Snuggle your inner knees around your shoulders. Squeezing your shoulders with your thighs, straighten your legs directly out in front of you. (Your legs should be in the same line as your hips, which are at chair-height.) Gaze forward on the floor and reach your chest toward the front of the space. If straightening your legs is not possible, keep your knees bent. Hold for 10 breaths. To come out of the pose, bend your knees and place your feet back on the floor.
One-Footed Pose Dedicated to the Sage Koundinya (Eka Pada Koundinyasana)
Props needed: 1 Long Bolster + 2 Yoga Blocks
This shape is another regular in vinyasa classes that tends to get thrown out there as casually as “take a vinyasa” despite being a challenging shape for most practitioners. What makes this pose advanced is that it is asymmetrical, meaning each side of your body is doing something different, and both legs are in a split. If you think Monkey Pose (Hanumanasana) is hard, try doing it while balancing. The prop set up in this version is helpful in showing you the fulcrum upon which to balance. It also provides a little extra help to get your back leg up.
How-to: Place a long bolster vertically on the left side of your mat and put two blocks stacked on the low setting under the top half of the bolster, creating a bottom-heavy see-saw. Start in a lunge position with your left knee at the end of the bolster and your right leg forward. Stay here for a few breaths to open the hip flexors of your back thigh. Lean forward and begin to weave your right shoulder under your right leg and thigh, placing your right palm outside your foot. The blocks should be directly at your left frontal hip bone (which will be our fulcrum). Begin to lean forward and straighten your right leg out in front of you, shifting forward to hover your thigh off the floor. Continue reaching your chest to the front of the room and align the left side of your pelvis on the bolster and blocks in order to float the back leg. Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees. Stay here for 8 breaths, then re-bend your right knee, place your foot on the floor, and slip yourself out from under your leg to return to the lunge. Move the props to the right side to repeat on the other side.