The one thing I’ve noticed since starting yoga is how much stronger my upper body has become.
I absolutely love the definition in my arms and the freedom that comes from supporting myself on my own two hands in different arm balances.
Arm Balances for Beginners
As a beginner, it can seem pretty intimidating to hold certain arm balances; but it’s ok to start out very slowly and modify every pose until you build up the proper strength to support yourself correctly.
It’s crucial not to do arm balances with poor form; because you risk injuring your rotator cuff, elbow joints and wrist joints if you put too much pressure on them in the wrong alignment.
Here are some very simple ways to start practicing some basic arm balances to build upper body strength and core support. Stick to these modifications until you feel strong and confident. Remember, there is no rush to get anywhere in yoga—take it slowly and learn the best ways to support yourself so you can have a safe, lifelong practice.
1. Modified Forearm Plank
Start on your hands and knees and drop your forearms to the mat. Make sure your elbows are in line, with your wrists not splaying out to the sides. You can even strap a yoga belt around the upper arms to keep the elbows from sliding open.
Walk your knees back until your hips are in line with your shoulders. Keep your toes tucked under, draw In your abdominals, bring your shoulder blades towards each other and press firmly in to your forearms. Hold for 8-10 breaths then lower down to the mat.
2. Modified Plank
Come back to hands and knees and this time, keep your arms straight and your shoulders pressed down away from your ears. Walk your knees back about 5 inches and feel your weight shift forward on to your arms.
Once again, contract your abdominals and squeeze an imaginary grapefruit between your shoulder blades. Make sure to keep your ribs drawing in, towards each other, and up away from the mat so your upper body makes a straight line and doesn’t sag. Hold for 8-10 breaths then take a break.
3. Modified Chaturanga
From your Modified plank pose, drop your chest down between your hands and your chin to the floor in front of your hands. Your elbows should skim the sides of your waist.
The biggest mistake I see in beginners practicing Chaturanga is moving their chest back before dropping it down. You need to move forward and lower your chest down directly between your hands. If you don’t have the strength for this yet, stick to modified plank.
4. Modified Side Forearm Plank
For side forearm plank, you can start on all fours again and lower your forearms to the ground. Inch your knees back in space until you feel like you’re in modified forearm plank.
Turn your right forearm in so the hand is facing the left elbow and shift your body weight on to your right knee. Twist your hips open to the left, placing your weight on your right forearm and right knee, and extend your left leg straight as your press your outer left foot in to the mat.
Lift your left arm up and look to the hand. Keep your abdominals strong and shoulders contracted down away from the ears. Hold for 5-8 breaths or as long as you can with good form before returning to forearm plank and trying it on the opposite side.
5. Modified Side Plank
Start on all fours come in to your modified plank and rock over to your right hand and right knee. Lengthen the left leg and press the outer foot in to the mat. Lift your left arm to the ceiling and try and look up to it.
Contract your abdominals and keep your shoulders down away from your ears. Keep pressing in to the inner right hand especially the place between the thumb and forefinger. Hold for 5-8 breaths or as long as you can with good form, then try the left side. Imagine you have a big beach ball under your waist when you practice side planks.
6. Modified Incline Plank
For this pose, I recommend doing tabletop. Tabletop gives you a sense of practicing a balance with your hands facing forward while your body is lifted to the ceiling.
Start seated with your knees bent and feet placed flat on the mat. Walk your hands 10 inches behind you with your fingers facing towards your lower back. Press firmly in to your feet and hands and lift your torso up off the mat until your hips and shoulders are in line with each other.
Try to lift your chest up even higher and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your abdominals engaged here and imagine your trying to slide your heels towards your shoulders to activate your hamstrings. Hold for 8-10 breaths, lower down and relax.
Try practicing these modified arm balances at least 3 to 4 times a week and notice your strength building in your upper body. Don’t be afraid to do these modifications in class whenever you need to! It’s always a good idea to find the proper alignment and to work up slowly so you'll feel strong and steady in all arm balances to come as you practice with mindfulness and moderation.