The majesty, complexity and demand of arm-balances can easily leave students wondering where to begin—and, sometimes doubtful that there’s any reason to try. So, when the going gets tough, break down the poses into bite-size, accessible components that your students can do right away. There are 4 elements of all arm-balances that you can teach your students to get them on the flight path. They may not translate this information to immediate departure, but it will keep them engaged and give them their best shot at working skillfully with these postures.
- Teach your students the foundational position of their arms and shoulders
Before blasting into an arm-balance, pause for a moment and observe the alignment of your hands, arms and shoulders. There are only 4 different positions for the arms in the wide-world of arm-balancing. The arms will either be reaching overhead (like handstand), stretching out to the sides (like vasisthasana), reaching straight forward (arms either straight like plank or bent like chatturanga), or pressing down next to your hips (like tolasana). Be sure to warm your students up by including simple, accessible postures that include these arm positions before tackling the arm-balances that represents this movement. For example, you can teach your students the alignment of the arms in vasisthasana by including warrior 2 in your sequence. You can also tell them in warrior 2 that you’ll be including this alignment of the arms in an upcoming arm-balance so they should be particularly attentive to the actions that they are experiencing so they can reproduce them in a harder posture. If they can’t come close to doing the arm-balance, they can always repeat an earlier, similar posture that teaches them the mechanics of their upper-body.
- Teach your students what to do in their lower-body
While there are only 4 different positions of the upper-body in the majority of arm-balances, the lower-body—especially the hips—takes on many different shapes. One of the most effective things you can teach your students is how to open, engage, and align their hips and legs in each arm-balance. Break down these actions for your students and provide them with simple, accessible postures that teach them how to use their lower body in the way that the arm-balance requires. For example, eka pada galavasana is the exact same shape in the lower body as pigeon pose. So, you can prepare your students for this arm-balance with pigeon pose. Also, if you have students that are unable to do eka pada galavasana ask them to stay focused and repeat pigeon.
- Teach your students how to engage their pelvic floor and abdominals
Arm-balances require your students to use their entire body. Teaching your students how to engage their pelvic floor and abdominals will help them lift their body and support the weight of their pelvis. You can focus on these actions in the lead-up to arm-balances along with postures that focus on the alignment of their upper-body and the flexibility of their lower-body.
- Encourage your students to release unnecessary tension
The balance between effort and relaxation is often lost during arm-balances. The effort is there in droves, but the relaxation is easily forgotten. Even more, it’s common to forget—or never consider—how important it is to be efficient in these postures. In addition to the physical tension that arises in arm-balances, students exert a lot of mental pressure on themselves. Remind your students that arm-balances are just postures—that they are not somehow better for them than other postures just because they are more challenging. Also, be sure to give instructions that will help them soften their eyes, jaw, and tongue.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.