A definition of yoga I once heard is: yoga is learning more about yourself. This is one outcome of practicing yoga. I love it. The different styles of yoga that people are drawn too highlight our personalities and our different journeys. I admit that restorative, relaxing, and yin yoga practices are not part of my regular yoga mix, even though they are so nourishing. Power, “flow”, “acro”, “core”, advanced, and Ashtanga are more my thing. It’s how I calm myself down and work myself out, in every sense. And, I just really like to play.
Going upside down in inversion poses, and suspending myself in arm balances makes me feel like a kid. Like a monkey. The monkey-child I’ve always been, climbing trees several storeys-high, hanging upside down from the monkey bars in playgrounds, or leaping from the highpoint on the swing as a kid. Two months ago, I climbed the cherry tree in my parents’ front yard. And I sometimes still create my own urban shortcuts by climbing fences. For adventure.
Achieving a new arm balance yoga pose makes me feel victorious, joyous, lithe, floaty, gregarious, alive, and strong. My ego certainly loves these labels. Arm balances are discouraging to many in the same way that hip-opening poses are discouraging to me. I get it. But the journey towards arm balances, or hip-opening poses, or your entire physical yoga practice is where you get to see yourself relate to challenge, witness changes in your life, and learn more about yourself. Yoga is a wonderful journey inward, to a place many (throughout millennia) consider divine.
So, ego-trip or not, give arm balancing another try. For the physical-conditioning benefits, for the childlike zeal, and for its contribution toward your health (especially core strength, balance, and fight-or-flight stress response management). Here are seven tips:
- Crow or Crane (Bakasana) – Worried about crashing down onto your face? Place a bolster or pile of blankets in front of you. Or stack a couple of foam blocks, and then intentionally come too far forward and place your forehead onto the blocks or bolster (then back into the pose).
- Side Crow – Start off sitting on blocks. Stack two blocks to make a seat. Rotate the trunk 90 degrees, make your arms and hands into claws, then tip forward, connect your “front” tricep to your thigh, plant your hands on the floor, and start to pile your body on top of your arm. Float the feet up, soar…you’re a “side crow”! Caw! Caw!
- Crow or Crane – Start off standing on a block, then crouch down. For crow, take the knees wide, or for crane, line the shins up with the triceps and bring knees in towards the armpits. Look forward, lean forward, and see if this little boost helps you get to weightless feet more quickly.
- Do pushups everyday. Regular push-ups, tricep pushups. One-arm push-ups!
- Warm-up with preparatory poses: begin with child’s pose, do crunches, do core holds, lay on your back and do the “dead crow” (make the crow shape in the air, but be on your back), do some progressively more challenging twists, and work on your hips by sitting crossed-legged for 10 breaths.
- Know that your bum is not too big for arm balances. It’s not.
- Fling your wrists around and flap them up and down. Really BE a bird. (No, actually this will relax the wrist joints and forearms. Do it before, during and after your arm balance practice.)
Namaste, monkey-boys and girls.