Arm balances are as much about trust as they are about strength. Successfully practising arm balances requires us to let go of fear, and develop self-belief in our innate abilities.  With the correct preparation, arm balances become fun and invigorating.

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Arm balance classes at Yoga Dharma work on building the core and upper body strength required to support our own body weight. The classes also develop the flexibility needed to make the body small, so the body weight stays over the hands and wrists in line with the centre of gravity.

The most common mistake made in attempting arm balances is applying gross strength, this tends to make us rigid and stiff, and we need to stay relaxed and centred. This allows us to find our point of balance. If we use gross strength we tire quickly, and it becomes hard to hold an arm balance.

We need to develop subtle core strength, and this is done most efficiently with practices like Mulha bandha and Uddiyana Bandha. Mulha bandha works on the pelvic floor and Uddiyana Bandha works on the abdominal strength. Uddiyana Bandha is a vacuum exercise, which will hit all the core muscles, and Mulha bandha is a very refined exercise that lifts the pelvic floor. These practises create a subtle and controlled core strength, this allows us to lift into an arm balance, and hold it with ease.

Let’s not forget the role of the breath in arm balances, without controlling the breath we not only become fatigued very quickly, we are rigid and stiff. Learning to control the breath will transform an arm balance practise. When lifting into your arm balance it is important take a slow controlled inhale, and when we have lift off we need to keep breathing. So often the breath stops, and with it our energy saps. Breath is life giving, transporting new oxygen to our cells with every in breath, and with the following out breath we release toxins from the body. Not breathing stops this process, and we starve the body of oxygen, and stop the release of toxins.

Upper body strength is essential to supporting the body weight against gravity, but targeting the upper body too much, and again we become rigid. A classic example is overworking the Rectus abdominus (six pack) An overworked Rectus abdominus becomes a hindrance, keeping the tummy too tight and restricts lateral movement. This is why yoga asanas (postures) are so effective, they make the body strong and flexible. The muscles become lean and long, too much muscle bulk will just get in the way, and make us stiff and inflexible.

Lastly, we need a flexible body, otherwise we can’t make ourselves small enough to keep from toppling forwards or backwards when we lift. Keeping the body compact and small makes it much easier to hold an arm balance. It requires a lot more strength to hold the body up if we keep having to correct the point of balance.

An arm balance class at Yoga Dharma incorporates all the areas outlined above.

Martin Thompson.