This past week in class we’ve been playing around with arm balances. Specifically we’ve been talking about actions we can take in the core, hands and arms to not only provide an upward push through the arms and shoulders, but also to activate the core to create lift. We like to blame our lack of arm and shoulder strength for our inability to “fly” in arm balances – and let’s be real here, it DOES take a certain amount of brute strength to lift the lower body off the ground and balance our weight on our arms and hands – but our core is the secret weapon in taking flight.
This week’s first tip is to claw the ground with your finger tips (as though you are trying to dig your fingers into sand), push down firmly through your palms, then energetically drag the outer edges of your palms towards the outer edges of your mat, keeping those actions going, energetically drag the heels of your hands towards the bottom edge of your mat. The cue to “claw, push, drag out and back” will strengthen your hands, forearms, shoulders and upper back. But what you’ll really notice is how your core will turn on!
Using this activation tip in poses like plank (continuing it through the lower down through chaturanga) will teach your body to access those muscles when you take on poses like bakasana (crow) or lolasana (earring).
The other tip of the week was to fine-tune your core activation by slightly opening the heart during the inhale (lightly lifting the ribcage up, not flaring the ribs out), then drawing the low ribs and the navel towards one another during the exhale. This is especially helpful to practice in standing poses like garudasana (eagle) and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand to big toe). This activation tip helps to ground you in balances by helping your body find alignment and strength.
Put these two tips together for a strong handstand. In the following sequence we will work towards a handstand prep at the wall. Have fun and please ask me any questions that might come up.
Remember, it’s just yoga, it’s not brain surgery, it’s ok to fall down, it’s ok to use the wall for balance, it’s ok to totally screw up! If you’re not laughing at yourself then you’re working too hard!
Practice. Not Perfection.
* Begin at the top of your mat in mountain pose. Start to work the subtle action of inhaling the heart open and exhaling the low ribs and the navel towards one another. Go through at least three rounds of surya namaskar A to warm up the body. Use “claw, push, drag, drag” cue in each plank to chaturanga, and also cobra or updog.
Once you feel warm and good to go, begin another round of sun salutation A, but instead of cobra or updog as your backbend go into this locust variation –squeeze inner thighs and inner ankles towards one another, lift legs and feet off ground; reach arms back and interlace fingers; use inhale cue to lift ribcage up and open heart while reaching interlaced hands towards heels; use exhale cue to strengthen core but don’t allow chest to drop too much; stay here for 5 breaths.
When you come to downward facing dog pose, inhale right leg back, exhale knee to nose, shift shoulders over wrists, pause but continue to breathe, cue “claw, push, drag, drag”; repeat with breath 3 more times; switch sides.
Utkatasana (chair pose), use inhale / exhale cues, then move to garudasana (eagle pose) using same cues, nest eagle by bringing bottom elbow to bottom knee, unwind eagle and step back to high lunge, still employing inhale / exhale cues; vinyasa with “claw, push, drag, drag” plant to chaturanga and inhale / exhale cues in locust.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand to big toe), using strap or grabbing edges of foot; use inhale / exhale cues in each progressive stage – knee lift, extend leg, nose to knee, lift nose (back to extend leg), back to knee lift, lower foot; switch sides.
Sit in dandasana (staff pose) with feet pressing into wall; forward fold (use blocks under knees) for 5 -10 breaths; place blocks behind hips (to mark location).
Place hands below or beside blocks, shoulder distance apart; cue “claw, push, drag, drag”, walk feet up wall until in pike position, continue “claw, push, drag, drag”, then cue inhale / exhale; lift right leg towards ceiling cue inhale / exhale; switch legs.
If you want to take your handstand to the next level, instead of switching legs, raise left leg to meet right, so both feet are reaching towards ceiling. Be prepared to fall! Remember, falling is part of the process! Have fun!
End in child’s pose.