When introducing arm balances, the age-old teaching cue goes: “If you know how to come into the arm balance, do it now. Otherwise, save it for another day.” My yoga teacher, however, took the time to thoughtfully break down the structure of the pose—and this guidance is the sole reason I confidently and correctly learned the art of arm balancing.
Instead of avoiding challenging postures, arm your students with the confidence and knowledge to get off the ground. Combined with intelligent sequencing, this guide will help you fearlessly lead your students into Eka Pada Koundinyasana II (One-Legged Sage Koundinya pose), along with variations for practitioners of all levels.
Chaturanga (Four-Limbed Staff pose) strengthens the torso and back muscles, and develops the arm strength required to hold your body weight in the balance
Knee-to-Elbow Plank activates core engagement to hold the body up, allowing you to extend the back leg
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Lunge) opens the inner hip of the front leg and the hip flexor of the back extended leg
Trikonasana (Triangle pose) frees the inner hip, chest, and front hamstring, and teaches external hip rotation of the standing leg while strengthening the core
Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand-To-Big-Toe pose) stretches the hamstrings and hips while strengthening the back and arm muscles
For the visual learners of the yoga crowd, demonstrations prove helpful. First offer a demo of the traditional pose, with the leg fully extended, and then offer a few modifications. For students with tighter hamstrings, modify the pose by bending the knee in the front leg.
From Downward-Facing Dog, have your student step one foot forward into Lizard Lunge. The front knee is bent at 90 degrees, and the hands are placed inside the front foot.
Tell your student to set up their hands like they’re in Chaturanga, maintaining a small pocket of space under the palms. This displaces the weight between the heels of the hands and the fingertips, preventing too much pressure on the wrists.
Instruct the student to rise onto the ball of their back foot, while maintaining a bend in their front knee. Encourage them to keep the front leg bent as close to 90 degrees as possible; this leg will act as a gas pedal to shift the bodyweight forward.
Now tell them to wiggle the front foot forward and away from the body, allowing the leg to extend and the foot to lift off the mat. The weight of the body should balance on the hands and the back foot, with the front foot elevated to some degree.
Guide your student to look forward. Then instruct them to shift their weight forward using the ball of the back foot—just as they do in Chaturanga. Tell them to imagine a seesaw; the weight has to shift from one side to the other to balance. The body does the same thing in the air in order to balance on the hands.
Instruct the student to transition weight from the back foot into the hands, utilizing back and core strength. Cue them to keep the chest open and the back leg lifted. Now watch as they take flight!
Gracefully exiting a posture is just as important as a graceful entrance. Guide your student to softly lower their back foot onto the ground, sit back into Child’s pose, and embrace the effects of their efforts. Return awareness to their breath pattern.
Your students might stay in stage four or five for quite some time—celebrate that with them! The practice is the process, and it’s never perfection. Attempting each of these stages is a success of strength, fearlessness, and courage.
Assuming you are teaching a group class, rather than a private lesson, verbally guide your students to see and connect with their surroundings. Instead of reading off your class script, let your observations fuel your spoken words.
Most importantly, give your students the space and courage to walk away from the pose. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Eka Pada Koundinyasana II won’t be either. After four or five tries, encourage your students to come out of the arm balance and rest in Child’s pose to find their breath. Tomorrow is another day!
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