How to Nail Your Arm Balances

Advanced asana is oftentimes a difficult gift to unpack.

Shortcomings in our attitudes, our egoic will, and our forceful ambition are revealed in practice towards peak postures. These aspects show up on the mat, since they are embodiments of our internal growth from one state of yogic skill to the next.

Thankfully, complex arm balances that require our bodies to be not only strong and capable but also supple and intelligent can train our yogic attitude towards self-realization, and away from athletic prowess. Coordinating our mental stamina, physical ability and right intention sets us on a path towards the pairing of postures dedicated to the sage known as Koundinya.

Eka Pada Koundinyasana I is a twisting arm balance posture that stimulates the digestive tract and sides of the spine. It improves balance, spinal articulation and challenges the mind to remain stable. 

A popular entry into Eka Pada is via tripod headstand, though coming in from Side Crow isn't altogether impossible.

Eka Pada Koundinyasana II is not twisted. In this variation, both legs are extended from the pelvis. One leg extends directly out of the hip socket in a neutral position, as in Plank Pose, while the other leg externally rotates and hugs down onto the back of it’s tricep.

Bring it Back to the Basics:

The history on Koundinya is not consistent, though one story references him as being among the select few to receive the first teaching from Lord Buddha, Siddartha. Remember that non-violence applies to our process of practice. Rather than jumping up to get off the ground, we really need to leverage ourselves forward with the use of our upper body strength and stable shoulders.

The ability to hold Chaturunga Dandasana while maintaining evenness in your breathing is a pre-requisite for these two fancy arm balance postures. Here's a step-by-step guide to get you into it. 

  1. Joint StackingAlign the center of your wrists to the width of your collar bones. Fan your fingers wide and grip down. Stack your shoulders over straight elbows, heels over balls of feet, feet aligned with inner hips. 
  2. Create a clear bone-to-bone pathway for the weight of gravity to move through your levitating body. This will prevent compressive buildup in your wrists and spine. 
  3. Lean In: Finding and surpassing your tipping point is essential.
  4. Physically speaking, use the gliding action from within the shoulder girdle to move your shoulder heads farther forward than your wrist creases. Leveraging your center of gravity forward more than usual will help to shift the weight load of your back leg from "dead leg" to "radiant sail."
  5. Psychologically speaking, building up your tolerance for moving beyond the tipping point of comfort will literally shift you into a new way of being. Rather than being grounded under the weight of gravity, you’ll be teetering on the edge of levity…and B-Boy quality buoyancy.
  6. Drop In Without Dumping: As you bend your arms toward Chaturanga Dandasana position, maintain an activated lift through your core, emphasizing the length in your exhale to support this from the inside-out. Stay mindful of the shoulder heads and collarbones! Dumping this area as you lower closer to the floor will destabilize your base, causing that clear pathway of support to kink. Consider placing tall blocks beneath your shoulders as a barrier until you can train your drop-in without losing the integrity of your upper body.

Going into your discomfort zone requires a level of bravery that is consciously made: The visceral feel of falling forward can be overcome by finding flight. Trust your ability to lean in more than you think is necessary. 

Niki saccareccia

Niki Saccareccia (E-500) is an author and Clinical Behavior Therapist. Niki’s insight into personal transformation is a unique and rare blend of methods from Western Psychology and Eastern Wisdom Traditions. Her approach is practical and concise, blending the best elements of alignment and mindfulness teachings into her classes. For more about Niki, visit READ MORE