Yoga Arm Balances

“Developing an ability to employ not only the usual three bandhas, Mula Uddiyana and Jalandhara, but also Pada bandha and Nabhi bandha, will make us light and full gravity defying energy, taking our practice to a new level”

Yoga Arm Balances can represent the culmination of a balanced practice, and are symbolic of a more balanced approach to life. Arm balances can be done with brute strength, but the practitioner will soon become tired and will lose the breath and coordination. When the arm balances become smooth and effortless, and are easily sustained throughout a whole practice then we can say they are correctly aligned.

Yoga arm balances are not about strength, although core and upper body are required. They are as much about trust than anything else. The trust in ourselves to commit fully into an arm balance is the only way we can fully understand and achieve a balanced and light yoga arm balance.

Take the arm balance sequence in the Ashtanga primary series, the whole practice is hung around it. To achieve the arm balance sequence takes a combination of strength, flexibility and correct alignment. The strength to support our body weight, the flexibility to make ourselves small and to hang the backs of the legs over the shoulders. Correct alignment comes in the placement of the hands, which must be directly beneath the shoulders. Place them to far in front and there is too much weight behind and we fall backwards. Place them too far behind and the wrists can’t open enough, and you just won’t be able to get the feet off the ground.

Without the courage to commit fully to an arm balance we will never find the point of balance. A prime example is Astavakrasana, without full committing to the balance you will never sit poised and composed in the asana, you will always struggle. To fully engage with this posture, you will need to tip forward and down, and as you do there is a counter balance effect and the posture becomes effortless. This is the key to moving from one arm balance to another, it feels and looks like you are floating and defying gravity. It is worth remembering the seeds for this effortless and light practice are born in the standing postures, spending time and effort with the standing postures is like planting seeds, keep nourishing them and they will sprout and bloom in abundance.

A developed core strength is vital to arm balances. A mature core awareness will support you and give you the ability to make yourself small. The smaller you can make yourself the easier it is to keep the weight over the shoulders, the arms and the hands. If the weight of your body is not contained and kept under control it will easily be pulled back down to earth. Keeping everything small and contained is where the psoas comes in, healthy and balanced psoas will keep the knees in close when we practice Bakasana, without it the weight would spread too far or we fall forwards, and again gravity wins.

As I mentioned a moment ago the way we practice our standing postures is vital to developing a light and graceful practice. Developing an ability to employ not only the usual three bandhas, Mula, Uddiyana and Jalandhara but also Pada bandha and Nabhi bandha. The correct placement of the feet, or Pada bandha, will develop the ability to make the full and vital connection with the Earth, but also bring that energy right back up through the inner thighs and to a spot four finger widths below the navel, or Nabhi bandha. This practice will make us light and full gravity defying energy, taking our practice to a new level.

Martin Thompson