Here's the deal: I love arm balances. Adore 'em. Though I'm utterly terrified of handstand, the rest of the poses that involve my weight on my hands intrigue me to no end.
Is it because I spent two years battling carpal tunnel syndrome, so they're a new and more playful part of my practice? Is it because I know that upper body strength has always been harder to come by for me (and most women), so it's fun to defy that notion?
Is it because it requires a different focus than many other aspects of the physical practice? Whatever it is, I can't get enough.
You Need Some Strength
When I did my yoga teacher training, I was just beginning to heal my wrists. I'd spent so much time in pain on my yoga mat and learned to find variations of poses that would help me.
I was able to adjust most things; for example, practicing Dolphin rather than Downward Facing Dog and working in Plank and Chaturanga on my knuckles – however, arm balance poses eluded me. I found Bakasana (Crow) and Parsva Bakasana (Side Crow) for brief moments, but I didn't have the strength in my hands and wrists to work on the rest.
With the help of acupuncture, as well as quitting my desk job to travel and move halfway around the world, I slowly was able to start practicing poses with my hands flat on the floor again.
Paying attention to keeping my hands active — taking weight into the fingertips and knuckles rather than just the palms — taught me to redistribute things so that I was putting less pressure on my wrists. More importantly, as I continued to practice regularly, my body began finding more openness, particularly in my hips.
You Need Some Patience
All of this led me to give Astavakrasana (Eight Angle pose) another try. I'd watched so many of my friends from teacher training work with this asana; however, at that point in time, the idea of a) balancing on my hands and b) opening my hips up enough to bring my leg up over my triceps to get into the pose both seemed impossible.
I felt then that if I even managed to get myself off the ground, I'd land flat on my face shortly afterward. I trusted that now would be different.
I got onto my mat to begin warming up my body with Sun Salutations, some flow through Warriors, and some hip openers. I sat down to begin. I scooped up my right shin, gently rocking the my right leg to prepare my right hip. Sliding my right arm under my right leg, I placed the hand down on the ground.
I swept my left leg over to cross the left ankle over the right. With both hands at the ready, I pressed into my palms and fingers and slowly began to lift my hips, bend my elbows, and extend my legs…and then I toppled over.
I tried the other side and went down again. I alternated between right and left, narrowly avoiding faceplants and training my body to engage the correct muscles.
Slowly, it all started to make sense.
…And Then You Reach Arm Balance Heaven
Since that day, I've been adding more arm balance poses to my repertoire — or at least giving them a try. Koundinyasana, Bhujapidasana, Tittibhasana, Dragonfly pose: each of them is a new challenge and something to explore.
I'm taking better care of my wrists as I go, finding the playfulness in each pose, and learning how to use my upper body in a new way.
And someday, I just might be ready to take the arm balancing all the way upside down.