Arm balances seem and look really impressive. They are a great addition to any yoga practice since they build stability and core strength. Arm balances do more than help you build physical strength, they also help you learn to persevere and not take your yoga practice too seriously. You will fall, and probably stumble a few times, but once you master an arm balance, your strength, stability, coordination, and confidence will all improve.
Here are 5 tips for practicing arm balances:
1. Be aware of where you are in your practice
You will have much more success with arm balances if you are realistic about where you are as a yogi. Some arm balances are good for beginners, while others are more advanced. If you’re a beginner, go ahead and try Scorpion, but don’t be surprised if it’s just a bit out of reach. Conversely, if you’re an advanced yogi and have been practicing Mayurasana (Peacock Pose) for a while, consider trying something a bit harder like Dragonfly or Koundinyasana (Sage Kaundinya's) pose. You won’t improve as a yogi if you don’t push more, find your edge and try something new.
2. Find your drishti
Just like finding your gaze (drishti) in balancing standing poses, finding a gaze in arm balances is essential. Find a stationary focal point a comfortable distance out in front of you. If it’s too far away or too close, it will be hard for you to focus.
3. Don’t push too hard too fast
It’s easy to rush into arm balances, even if you’ve been practicing yoga for months; it’s important to make sure you’re moving into the balance slowly and with intention. When you rush, or push yourself too fast and too hard, you end up frustrated, disappointed, or injured. Practicing arm balances regularly you begin to see improvements over time.
4. Warm up
Before you attempt to practice any arm balance, make sure you have warmed up your body beforehand. Practice a few rounds of Sun Salutations. It’s much harder to nail an arm balance if you’re going into it cold.
5. Press Down
In order to lift up, you have to press down through your hands. Make sure to press evenly through your hand, and engage your fingertips. Try to avoid putting all the pressure on the base of your palm as this will lead to wrist injuries.
Yoga tends to get a bad reputation because people think it’s all about stretching and bending your body into a pretzel; and while the later may be true (you’ve seen those Instagram pics) it’s also better than just doing crunches all the time! While many types of traditional yoga practices are based on mindfulness and spiritual mantras, yoga is also a great ab workout. These 5 poses here offer a ton of core strength. I mean, there’s a reason you can’t hold them for long before collapsing onto your mat. Start with these poses to begin to strengthen your core and tone your abs without doing any crunches.
1. Boat Pose
Boat pose is amazing for your entire core because it works the muscles in your upper and lower abs at the same time. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Then, press your hands on the floor behind your hips and lift your legs off the floor, leaning back slightly and lifting your hands in front of you. Your tailbone should now be on the ground with your legs and arms forward in the same direction. You can either hold it there for maximum time, or hold it for a few breaths, release, and then repeat for reps (10-12).
Bend your knees at first if you’re not able to extend them fully.
2. Warrior III
It might sound weird to do an ab exercise while standing up, but the whole point of the Warrior III is to challenge your balance by standing on one foot, and then stabilize using your core. Start standing up with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Then, turn to your left and step your feet wide, bending your right knee over your right ankle. Press your weight into your right foot and lift your left leg out behind you while your arms extend out in front of you. If it feels wobbly or awkward to be on one foot, that’s the point. Engage your abs and squeeze tight to stabilize yourself for as long as you can—at least 30 seconds before switching legs
Keep your arms in prayer position to help with balance.
3. Side Plank
Side planks may seem basic, but there’s a reason you do them in every yoga, Pilates, and workout: they do the trick. The idea of the side plank is to stack your feet on one side of you while your forearm is on the ground and your hips are lifted. You want to engage your oblique muscles. Hold the pose on each side of your body for 30 seconds and remember to keep your obliques and hips lifted and squared the entire time. The other option is to support yourself with a fully-extended arm, which takes some burn off your abs but adds an additional balance component—still good for your core.
Stacking your feet is standard, but lowering your back leg for stabilization is a modifier.
4. Chair Pose
Chair pose tends to feel like a quad workout (and it is), but if you’re doing it right and taking your time, you can feel this in your core too and it’s great for your abs. Standing hip-distance apart with your arms straight over your head, sit down into a mini squat without moving your arms at all. Bring your hips as low as you can and engage your core muscles so that you don’t lean too far forward. Take deep breaths and hold the pose for a minute if you can.
Keep your weight in your heels, lift your toes off your mat to remind yourself if need be.
5. Elevated Plank
Planks are basic and sound boring, but by elevating your feet onto a higher surface, (like a yoga block, wheel or a bench) you can get a deeper burn in your abs and really engage all your muscles at once. The idea is to have your feet elevated behind you and your body in one straight line. Try to think about pulling your belly button toward your spine and slightly lifting your buttocks; making sure your back stays straight the entire time. The burn will kick in pretty quickly but that just means you’re doing it right. Start with 30 seconds and work up to a minute.
Just like with side planks, dropping to your forearms puts more stress on your abs, but is also more stable.
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