How to master arm balances in yoga 🧘‍♀️

Arm balances in yoga certainly require core and upper body strength, BUT lack of strength may not be the reason someone is unable to hold their body in one of these poses.

I had a chat once with a friend who said she wasn’t “strong enough” to hold bakasana (crow or crane pose depending on the yoga school). We were constantly working out together at that time so I knew dang well that she was really strong (definitely stronger than me), and I had a gut feeling it wasn’t a matter of strength for her.

We had a little private session (aka in the middle of girls night) and I cued her into the pose with proper alignment. Quickly we realized it was her technique holding her back, not her strength! Now she is a crow master and incorporates them into her flows.

While arm balances are challenging, they are conquerable when a yogi has correct form and muscle activation!

That being said, this will require body awareness and mental focus. Let’s break down how you too can master these poses!

Weight distribution. Picture a balance. If you put rocks in one side and stones in the other, the balance will not stand still.

This concept is also true when your body is in bakasana. Your wrist joint becomes the stabilizing point which your weight needs to equalize around.

For many, this likely means you need to shift your body weight even further forward. For me, it was actually much further than I thought my body was capable of holding me at.

A few tips if you’re still getting the hang of this:

  • Gradually shift your weight forward until your feet start to come up from the ground (without you lifting them).

  • Gaze matters! Look roughly ten centimeters in front of your mat while shifting your weight.

  • Grab a bolster or pillow. A pillow is great security if you feel like you are going to fall, but chances are you won’t need it!

  • Hands and arms should be actively pressing into the ground. You want equal weight in all finger tips, with fingers gripping the mat. I turn my fingers out slightly and keep them relatively close together to maintain the strength in my hands.

If you have mastered playing with weight shifts, but still feel shaky in the pose, it’s time to activate (really, really activate) your muscles. And I mean alllll your muscles.

The upper body. Arguably, strength in the upper body is the most obvious necessity for mastering arm balances.

Always cue yourself to “strong chaturanga arms”. Imagine that 90 degree bend you find in half plank and aim for the same shape.

Next, think about co-activating all the muscles in your arm — with special emphasis on the biceps and triceps.

The core. I have way more core strength than I do upper body strength, and if I had to guess, these muscles are doing even more work than my upper arms in crow pose.

Squeeze, squeeze and squeeze some more. Picture those deep inner core muscles wrapping around and protecting your spine. Now really engage them and imagine lifting yourself up from this spot.

The lower body. Yup, as if you don’t have enough to do already, you also need to engage your lower leg muscles. While it’s not necessarily key to mastering the pose, it helps you feel lighter and less shaky.

Simply put, the more you engage your legs, the less weight you will feel in the backs of your arms. This assists you in feeling more grounded and, dare I say, comfortable.

Of course there are many, many more arm balances beside the one I mention here, but this (at least in my opinion) is the most fundamental one.

I hope you can incorporate these tips into your own practice and begin mastering arms balances!