A Tale of Two Arm Balances

A Tale of Two Arm Balances

Hi everyone!  Before we get down to business here I wanted express my profound respect for and gratitude to the late BKS Iyengar, who left his body a few days ago.  Without his insight and wisdom, I literally could not be doing what I am doing.  Among his many contributions to modern yoga, Mr. Iyengar pioneered the use of yoga props, making this practice accessible to so many.  Though I wasn’t able to study with him directly, many of my teachers did, and his teachings have strongly influenced my life and work.

So despite my previous post, please don’t think I have broken up with props.  I love props so much – they really are the best.  Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make arm balances (which tend to make me want to throw yoga props across the room) work for my body since I didn’t think it was fair to just ignore a whole category of poses.  I’ve had some tentative success with crow pose lately, which might be responsible for my new enthusiasm for making arm balances happen, darn it.  Since this is new territory for me, I thought it might be fun to document my attempts at figuring out how to support some arm balances and if you’ve been following me on social media, you’ve seen my efforts thus far with eka pada koundinyasana and viparita salabhasana.  I was expecting to show a couple of snippets of my process, which I did, but it’s been more interesting than I expected because the one that was an intentional project still isn’t anywhere near to done, and the one that was basically an accident worked itself out immediately, to my intense glee.

Let’s start with eka pada koundinyasana.  I was intrigued by this one because it doesn’t require a closed twist like many complex arm balances do.  As I’ve discussed before, closed twists are challenging when you have an abundance of belly flesh so I decided to leave the twisted arm balances for another time.  I also knew that I could more or less make the shape with my body even though holding it up unsupported wasn’t really happening.  When I tried this pose with out props, I sort of managed to get my knee to the outside of my arm, but when I leaned forward, the whole thing collapsed.  So I went back to my old standby of putting a bolster under neath me (like in the chaturanga to upward dog transition).  If you follow me on social media, you saw the results of that attempt:

eka pada koundiyasana attempt

This wasn’t all that successful, honestly.  Even with the props, I like to try to keep the integrity of the asana, and that’s not happening here.  My shoulders are collapsed and my leg won’t stay on my arm like it’s supposed to.  I tried again the next day changing the orientation of the bolster:

eka pada koundinyasana

It’s better – and that’s a good indication that sometimes a very small adjustment in the propping can make a HUGE difference.  But it’s still far from perfect/done/figured out.  I did not, for example, photograph a couple of disastrous attempts to do this with a belt around for my forearms.  More to come on this – I’m sure I’ll get it eventually.  Oh and also, lest you think that supporting the pose makes it easy, let me tell you that my triceps were incredibly sore the next day.

Onto the next pose.  This pose actually happened because I was getting super frustrated trying to get my leg up on my arm in eka pada koundinyasana!  I leaned way forward and tried to swing my leg up a bit and I got a lot higher than I was expecting.  A light bulb immediately went off.  I abandoned my koundinyasana efforts for a moment and tried to lift my legs up and over into a chin stand/viparita salabhasana.  I vaguely remembered a class from years ago where we tried this with a few blankets underneath us so I figured a bolster would be even better.  After a few unsuccessful attempts with one bolster, I decided that two bolsters might do the trick.  And they did.  And that was that.

chin stand viparita salabhasana

After being so frustrated, you better believe that there was some jig dancing, fist pumping and other expressions of excitement.  In a moment of pure giddiness, I posted this photo all over social media, and after a lot of amazing support and encouragement, I also recorded a video of how to get into it:


As with any inversion, please go slow, listen to your body and find a qualified teacher to assist you if needed.  If you want to work on building strength for this pose, I suggest working on your back strength in poses like cobra, salabhasana, dhanuarasana and bridge pose.

None of this stuff comes out of no where.  I owe my teachers, who gave me the tools, the encouragement and the strength to try to figure out asanas for my body like this a huge debt of gratitude.  And if I convince even one person that amazing things are possible on the mat no matter what you look like, then all the frustration and giddiness is so freaking worth it.  I’ll continue to work on arm balancing because I believe all yoga poses (in some form) are for all of us who want to do them.  Happy practicing!

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