Tips to Mastering an Arm Balance
Your pelvis is heavy, and knowing where to put it during an arm balance will make a big difference in your ability to distribute your weight effectively and ultimately find lightness and ease in your pose.
Balancing in an arm balance is about:
- shoulder stability
- core strength
- pelvic placement/ weight placement
Okay, okay, naturally you need core strength. But not as much as you think. Place your weight smartly, and you will use less tension, find more ease, and gain levity and freedom in your arm balances.
Tip #1: Maintain excellent hand positioning
To protect your weight in arm balances, weight all four corners of the hand evenly. For most of us, this means pressing more firmly into the index finger mound. Without adult supervision, weight will naturally roll to the outer heel of the hand. But we have a lovely little nerve in there called the ulnar nerve (if you’ve ever had numbness in the outer hand after practicing, the compression of this little guy may be the reason why). There is also a nerve in our carpal tunnel called the median nerve. Keeping weight into our fingertips and medial palm edge will take the weight off of the heel of the hand and help you to protect both these nerves from over-compression. Weighting into the fingertips will also give you more control of your weight – just like your toes help you to balance when you’re standing.
Tip #2: Maintain shoulder stability
Our shoulder girdle is only attached skeletally in one little place: the meeting point of the collarbone and sternum. That’s it. That’s all the skeletal support you’ve got when you’re balancing on your hands. Therefore, you need excellent muscular stabilization through your back and your shoulders to support your arm balance effectively. In the YYoga TT, we employ the actions, “lift your back ribs while you draw your shoulder blades together on your back” in order to recruit both sets of muscles that will stabilize the scapulae effectively. In a nutshell, this means that the shoulders and the back body must become a place of support. While it becomes tempting in arm balances to drop our shoulders down to the floor, we must earnestly continue to stabilize the shoulder blades on the back rather than collapse into gravity.
Think of lowering into chaturanga. Effectively lowering from plank to chaturanga means that our shoulder blades stay on our back and that the heads of the arm bones stay lifted towards the sky. When the shoulder heads drop, we place far too much pressure on the front of the rotator cuff and joint. Similarly in arm balances, we must lift the heads of the arm bones skyward to maintain adequate stabilization of this shallow joint.
Tip #3: Core strength
You knew it would be in here. Yes, you need core strength. However, core strength isn’t just about your six-pack. Core strength means finding the connection from your big toes through the inner seams of your legs, through the pelvis floor and into the deepest layer of your abdominals, the transverse abdominus. In a nutshell, find your “leg magnets” (as Chris Clancy might say) that link the inner seams of your legs together. This engagement through the legs will naturally lift the pelvis floor and help you to deeply engage your core.
When doing an arm balance, we usually have our upper leg against our upper arms: use this connection to assist you in finding the muscular engagement of the inner leg. Also, remember that your toes are part of your body, too. By maintaining awareness from toes to pelvis, you will be able to recruit the legs to work for you so that they are not dead weight.
Tip #4: Control your booty
When doing a pose like bakasana (crow), the booty actually needs to be down. Lifting the bum high will disconnect you from your core connection and make the pose more precarious. By keeping the tailbone down and lifting vigorously through the sides of your waist, you will recruit more muscular stability in the pose, rather than teetering in a balance.
However, in other poses such as Eka Pada Galavasana, Parsva Bakasana (side crow), and Eka Pada Koudinyasana, we must keep our bum high. Letting the pelvis drop in these poses will deflate the integrity of the pose and make it much harder to shift your weight forward to take the weight off of the feet and find your balance. While core integrity is necessary, lift off in these poses depends on your ability to control your weight in space – much like we move weight in a teeter totter. When the pelvis stays high, you have the ability to shift the chest forward in space, which will allow the legs and back body to become light and eventually float. If the pelvis drops, everything will move earthward and the levity of the pose will dissipate.
Playing in the poses
Bakasana (Crow): Booty low
- In bakasana, place your feet together on a block and take your knees wide. Then place your hands outer shoulders’ distance apart, spread your fingers side, and evenly weight into all four corners of your palms – particularly the index finger mound
- Get low, and bring your knees as high up onto your outer arms as you can.
- Clamp your knees onto your outer, upper arms.
- Gaze forward.
- Keeping your booty low and your side waists high (think of an angry cat), begin to shift your weight forward into your hands as if you were a hovercraft.
- Play with moving back and forth, and you will find that your feet become lighter and eventually leave the block.
- Once your feet leave the block, clamp in with your thighs, lift through the sides of your waist, then begin to press down through the hands until the arms become straight.
Eka Pada Koundinyasana: Booty High
- Come into a low lunge with both hands to the inside of your front foot.
- Lift your back leg and lift your booty high.
- Clamp your front knee onto your upper arm
- Press into your hands, lift your back ribs skywards, and keep that as you anchor your shoulder blades on your back
- Lift onto your front toes
- Lift onto your back toes and begin to shift your weight forward
- Keeping your shoulders lifted skywards and your booty high, lift your front foot off the ground. Either keep it bending in, or reach it diagonally away from your body (like you’re reaching it to 2 pm on a clock dial)
- Keep your booty lifted and shoulders lifting as your reach your sternum forward and bring more weight onto your hands
- Find the teeter-totter balance here as you reach the chest forward. When the weight moves far enough ahead, the back toes will lift off the floor.
Bonus Tip #5: Patience
Arm balances are not natural for human kind. After all, we don’t often find ourselves suddenly falling into an arm balance as we walk down the street! Naturally, it takes time for our body to become confident balancing weight onto our hands. Be patient, work slowly, and the support and ease that you cultivate will put in you in an excellent position for coming into flight.
In the meantime, the conscientious practice of the following poses are excellent warm ups to include in your preparations:
- Cat/ Cow – particularly cat so you can keep your booty low! Also, work your excellent hand position here
- Plank – Chaturanga: practice keeping the shoulder heads lifting and keeping the hips and shoulders in line
- Lizard – good for hip opening and practicing keeping that booty high!
- Malasana – good for hip opening and finding the engagement of the inner thighs
- Crescent- hug your “leg magnets” to find your core from your toes to your pelvis