Arm Balances and Yoga
The strength for arm balances doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build up to them, even if you have a regular strength training (lifting weights) routine.
When I first started practicing yoga, I started with a Hatha yoga class and DVD’s. I branched off into gyms and YouTube videos where the sequences were standing, balancing and seated postures. There were no inversions or arm balances. In the first couple years of my yoga practice, I didn’t know about arm balances or inversions. (this was before Instagram and Facebook).
Eventually I became a member of a studio and found a whole new world of arm balances and inversions. I was hooked. It took a while to build up my upper body strength in order to attempt and hold more challenging poses.
How can arm balances make your muscles stronger?
The big answer here seems obvious. Holding the body up, while pushing away the floor helps the muscles engage and build strength. The shoulders, biceps and triceps are being strengthened but what else? In order to fully balance and maybe even hold a pose for a few breaths the core needs to be engaged as well.
There are so many benefits to having a strong core and upper body.
Better Posture: Strengthening the chest, shoulders and back will aid in holding the body up properly. This will also increase confidence which of course will help anyone hold their body up a little taller.
Stronger Muscles = Stronger Bones: It’s a known fact that when strength training, even body weight, is added at least a few times a week the bones benefit. Exercise in general is great for combating or helping with bone loss but adding things like weight baring activities can have an even better affect on the body.
Less Chance of Injury: When muscles are strong they hold the body in a little better and keep the insides safer. Almost like a suit of armor. When the body is strong there is less of a chance for internal injury.
Stabilization of the Body: The back and front of the core help to stabilize the body for movement. When these areas are weak, it creates stress on the extremities and can cause the body to be out of alignment, resulting in injury.
Yoga alone can only do so much as far as strength training but when just starting out, using body weight can help to build muscles. After these poses feel easy, it might be a good idea to add some strength training with weights or resistance bands into your normal routine in order to continue to keep and/or build muscle.
To get you started here are a few tips to help build strength and form to make arm balances a little more attainable.
Practice Plank Holds: I’m always adding planks into most of the classes I teach. They are the ultimate core and shoulder/arm strengthener. Planks are * safe for abdominal separation which is comment with postpartum but can also happen to any body. Engaging the bellybutton toward the spine, pressing the mat away while spreading through the fingers, shoulder blades working into the back and pressing the hips up slightly are all key ingredients to a great plank.
*for the most part, of course if you have an abdominal separation or injury to your abdomen please talk with your physical therapist or doctors before attempting
Chaturanga Push-ups or Modified Push-ups: Not only do push-ups build arm and shoulder muscle, the core is also being engaged which helps build strength. Take a few at a time and slowly build up to 10 repetitions and 2-3 sets at a time.
Downward Facing Dog: From a plank position, lift the hips up and back. Spread through the fingers. Press the fingertips and base of the palms into the earth to engage all through the arms. Practice holding here and once it becomes easy, play with some movement. Bring the body forward into plank pose. Move with the breath, inhale forward to plank, exhale back to downward facing dog. Another option is to lift one leg in downward facing dog (three legged downward dog).
Dolphin Pose: From downward facing dog bend the elbows (one at a time or at the same time) and bring the forearms to the mat. Walk the feet in as much as needed. Keep the core engaged and shoulder blades working onto the back. Hold for a few breaths while working up to 10 full rounds of breath. This will fire up the core and build strength in the upper body. The strength needed for forearm stand and head and handstand as well.
Focus: As with any challenging task, concentrating and keeping focus will increase awareness and attention. Arm balances need your full attention to keep the muscles engaged and to hold the body in a balanced position. Focusing keeps you in the present moment which is also a key factor in any yoga practice.
One Step at a Time: Crawl before walking, walk before running, as the saying goes. Take each arm balancing pose and work at the first modification. Feel super comfortable in the variation before moving on to the next step. No one expects you to jump right in and have a perfect Bakasana (crow pose) or whatever arm balance you’re working toward.
Hard work will get you the results you want. Keep working and you’ll get to the goal pose.
Disclaimer: The information on this website (Alt Yoga Vibe) is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for medical treatment or hands on instruction. If you are experiencing any severe pain or symptoms, please consult a healthcare practitioner.