Friday, January 22, 2010

Arm balances (Day 8 of 30 Day Yoga Challenge)

One of the challenges I've given myself for this 30 Day Yoga Challenge is to become more proficient in the arm balances, such as the pose shown here,  Bakasana (crane or crow pose).

On first glance, it seems that these poses would need a great deal of arm strength.   Of course that's an important component, but just arm strength won't get us there.

We also need enough flexibility to bring the arms and legs into position, and enough core strength to hold them in place as we lift off from the floor.  And of course we need the balance to keep us from tipping!

Most of the "usual" poses we do in class require lengthening the front of our trunk with respect to the back of the trunk; lifting and broadening the chest as we move the shoulder blades down and into the back to support the opening of the chest.  (Think of how we often start class, practicing to lift the sternum and broaden across the collar bones).

However, in the arm balances, we lengthen, broaden, and round the back of the trunk.   We lengthen the tailbone away from the back waist, tucking it under to lengthen and broaden the low back; and we spread the shoulder blades away from each other to broaden and round the upper back.   To hold this all in place, we draw the abdominal muscles up and in toward the spine.  John Schumacher, in the latest issue of Yoga Journal (Feb. 2010) advises for these poses, "Visualize wrapping yourself around a beachball".

Of course I don't want to work on these poses all by myself!  So, this past week in the higher level classes we've worked on some of the arm balances, first doing Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) for strengthening the arms and wrists, some hip-opening poses and variations, twists to help the spine become more supple, and Navasana (boat pose) variations for the abdominals.

Arm balances we worked on (depending on the class):
Lolasana (pendant pose)
Eka hasta bhujasana (one leg hooked over an arm, the other leg straight)
Dwi hasta bhujasana  (both legs hooked over upper arms).

These are difficult poses for most people, so practice them with a sense of playfulness and equanimity!   Enjoy the process of figuring them out in your own body!  

For pictures of these poses, you can look at the books at the studio, especially Light on Yoga, and Yoga: The Iyengar Way.

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