Yoga arm balances are where the practitioner’s body weight rests entirely on their hands or forearms. As human beings, we are not accustomed to bearing the load of our body with our arms, which means that the key to performing these asanas is balance.
In yoga, arm balances range from accessible and beginner-friendly (such as Crow Pose) to advanced poses that require hundreds of hours of practice (such as Handstand or Scale Pose).
The good news is that each arm balance pose can help you build the skills required to take your practice to the next level, gradually advancing your balance game and strengthening the upper body.
If you were previously reluctant to try them, this article might change your mind!
In this article we will explore:
- 6 Yoga Arm Balance Essentials
- 6 Arm Balance Yoga Poses
- Arm Balance FAQs
Yoga Arm Balance Essentials
#1: Warm Up
Our wrists were not designed to bear the weight of our entire bodies. Furthermore, arm balances force the wrists into a 90-degree angle, an unnatural position for many people.
In the same way as you wouldn’t go for a run without warming up your feet and ankles, you want to make sure that your wrists are thoroughly warm and ready to party.
#2: Shift Your Center of Gravity
Remember, every arm balance is first and foremost just that, a balance. To perform an arm balance, you have to shift your center of gravity to your hands or forearms.
One of the most common mistakes made by practitioners new to arm balances is trying to lift the lower body without properly transferring the weight into the arms.
#3: Ask For Help
That first transition to arm balancing can be daunting. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In a group class or a private lesson, the teacher will be able to assist you.
Otherwise, you can ask your partner, sibling, or roommate to help you get into position and stop you from hurting yourself.
#4: Soften Your Landing
Another great way to make the arm balance practice safer is to soften your landing.
You can use household objects like blankets or cushions to catch you if you fall or position yourself in a way where you would be supported by a wall or a piece of furniture.
#5: Create a Safe Environment
Perform the arm balances on a flat, even surface. Soft or uneven ground will make it very challenging, not to mention risky.
Make sure to practice in a space free of clutter, sharp corners, or fragile objects. It is also a good idea to stop your pets or small children from getting in your way.
#6: Use Props
Props are your best friends! Just like with other types of yoga poses, props like blocks, straps, or bolsters can help you with your arm balance practice.
6 Arm Balance Yoga Poses to Challenge Your Center of Gravity
#1: Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Typically, Crow Pose is the first arm balance encountered by a new yoga practitioner. The reason for that is simple: Crow Pose is relatively straightforward and can be adapted through variations and props.
Although it does require strength and concentration, Crow Pose is still more accessible than most yogic arm balances. You don’t have to have above-average flexibility, or the ability to spring up into action.
Furthermore, the head remains level with the heart, which means you can focus on the balancing aspect without dealing with being inverted.
Teachers and students alike tend to love Crow Pose thanks to its many variations. With subtle changes in position, this asana can be adapted to practitioners of different levels of experience and physical complexion.
Don’t rush to discount Bakasana as a “beginner” arm balance! There are plenty of ways to amplify your effort. For example, you may try straightening your arms, shifting your knees closer to the armpits, or inverting slightly by lifting your hips.
Top tip: avoid looking down, that’s a sure way to tumble to the floor! Instead, extend your neck and direct your gaze forward.
#2: Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana)
Once you master the Crow Pose, you can challenge yourself with this asymmetrical variation. Although at its core this asana is very similar, adding a twist significantly shifts the center of gravity and puts extra pressure on one side of the body.
With Side Crow, it is especially important to warm up the wrists as thoroughly as possible to avoid strain or injury. The core still plays an important part in this balance, but now it requires more effort from your obliques and transverse abdominal muscles. Watch out for the cramps!
While Side Crow is an excellent asana in its own right, it also acts as a segue to other yogic arm balances, such as Sage Koundinya’s Pose (see below) or Grasshopper Pose (Parsva Bhuja Dandasana).
Top tip: to stop your elbows from sliding apart, wrap a yoga strap around your upper arms, securing to the width of your shoulders.
#3: Sage Koundinya’s Pose I (Eka Pada Kundinyasana I)
Taking a step towards more advanced physical practice, you can progress into Eka Pada Koundinyasana I.
The first step to get into this yoga pose is Side Crow. Once you establish your balance, it’s time to extend the top leg backward and straighten the leg resting on your upper arm.
To compensate for the weight shifting back though the extended leg, you must also bring the head and torso closer to the ground.
The resulting shape is a reason why Eka Pada Koundinyasana I has been nicknamed “flying scissors”.
Complex as it is, this asana is an excellent challenge for the entire body! Your arms, shoulders, and wrists get stronger by supporting your body weight, your core gets rock solid from twisting and balancing, not to mention your legs and hips get a workout of their own.
Top tip: straightening the legs is not as easy as it may seem! Make sure to work on your hip and quad strength, and don’t forget to stretch your hamstrings.
#4: Elephant Trunk Pose (Eka Hasta Bhujasana)
The precursor to this pose is the L-sit, or floating Dandasana, although some practitioners may argue that the Elephant Trunk Pose is easier to perform, since one leg rests on your shoulder.
This pose is a great way to work on your hip flexibility, but even more importantly, your core and hip flexor strength. The latter two are essential for lifting your seat off the ground and floating the lower body while your hands press down into the floor.
Furthermore, Elephant Trunk Pose is a building block necessary to master poses like Eight-Angle Pose (see below) or Flying Lizard (Utthan Pristhasana).
Top tip: if you struggle to lift your seat, you can distance yourself from the floor by pressing your hands into a pair of yoga blocks or using small parallettes.
#5: Eight-Angle Pose (Ashtavakrasana)
Another brilliant asymmetrical arm balance, the Eight-Angle Pose challenges your flexibility as it twists you into a beautiful shape.
Don’t worry, it does not actually require you to bend in eight different places. The pose was named after Sage Ashtavakra, a revered figure in Hinduism.
According to the legend of his origin, this vedic sage was born with eight physical deformities, which is how he got the name Ashtavakra (ashta meaning “eight” and vakra meaning “bent” in Sanskrit).
As well as twisting and floating, the Eight-Angle Pose introduces another element of asana practice: binding. Arguably, locking the ankles together makes it easier to lift your body into the pose in one swift motion.
Top tip: plant your hands wider than the width of your shoulders to create extra stability.
#6: Shoulder Pressing Pose (Bhujapidasana)
The cousin of Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana), this arm balance is slightly more beginner-friendly. Instead of relying purely on strength or flexibility, this asana is more about the precision of your body’s position.
Similarly to Crow Pose, the Shoulder Pressing Pose can be adapted to novice practitioners to help them get a taste of arm balancing. As you get stronger and more flexible, you will be able to bring the legs closer to your shoulders and lift your seat higher off the ground.
If you keep incorporating the Shoulder Pressing Pose into your sessions, you will soon notice a significant improvement in other asanas requiring upper body strength.
Practicing this pose will help you build up strength in your entire upper body, including shoulders, wrists, chest, and core.
Top tip: for many students, crossing their ankles is the hardest part of the pose, at least initially. Focus on pressing your thighs into the shoulders and lifting your feet, and the rest will come with practice!
Frequently Asked Questions
How advanced should the practice be for you to start trying arm balances?
You don’t have to wait for a specific milestone in your practice. However, it’s important that you spend some time learning to operate your body in the yogic context and understand its boundaries.
If you have zero experience with arm balancing, it’s best to practice under supervision of a yoga teacher. This way, they will be able to advise you how to adapt certain poses to your level of skill.
Is there a way to accommodate less flexible wrists?
Absolutely! Pressing the palms into the floor can be challenging even in a four-point kneeling position. To reduce the pressure on your wrists, you can change the angle by balancing on yoga blocks or holding on to a set of low parallel bars.
As you can see, once you break it down, arm balances are not that scary! If you want to learn more, check out The Book of Arm Balances by Holly Fiske.