The Secret to Finding Stability in Arm Balances

  • Megan McInturff
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While there are many contributing factors to stabilizing arm balances, such as your core and foundation, the following tips focus on arm and shoulder placement as a way to avoid injury and improve strength.

Learning how to set the shoulders for arm balances begins with engaging the muscles surrounding the scapula, or shoulder blades. The shoulders are intricate joints. There’s a conjunction of three bones, with a complex muscle, tendon and ligament structure. Because there are so many pieces to the shoulder puzzle, it means a lot can go wrong. The big secret to finding stability in arm balances hasn’t been in front of you the whole time. It’s actually been behind you! 

These tips will guide you from the back, to the shoulders, and through the arms:

1. Practice Scapular Retraction and Depression: Some refer to the retraction and depression action of the scapula as “putting your shoulder blade in your back pocket.” Start with retraction, by pulling your shoulder blades in towards the spine. This will broaden the chest. Now try depression by drawing the shoulder blades down, by pressing the shoulders down. This action engages the lower trapezius, the major muscle covering the most area on the upper back. You can try this action anywhere, like sitting at your desk. Try it 10 times and hold each action for 1 breath. Developing the strength and habit of this action will make it second nature when preparing for an arm balance.

2. Stay level in the shoulders: Both shoulders should have equal weight, even in asymmetrical arm balances like Eka Pada Koundinyasana or Side Crow. In these arm balances, there is a tendency to let one shoulder drop down and lose stability, putting more weight on the opposite shoulder. If one shoulder is dropping, that scapula needs to be put back in its pocket! Remember, retraction and depression.

3. Keep the elbows hugging into center: Things are stronger when working together, right? Get the elbows in on it! If the elbows are wide, you will be less stable. You’ll spread the weight outward, when the goal is to draw it in towards your center to balance over the hands. Ideally, your elbows should be stacked over the wrist. This will vary on the arm balance, like Crane Pose, the elbows may be slightly forward of the wrist.

4. Maintain a perpendicular angle between the lower arm and the ground: This touches back on the idea of keeping the elbows over the wrist. Not only do we want to avoid the elbows going wide, but you need to shift forward when approaching arms balances like you would in Chaturanga Dandasana. Shift far enough forward to avoid the digging sensation in the heels of the hands, but not too far forward that you begin to pinch the wrist. Forearms are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other. Who would have thought high school geometry would have come in handy on the mat?

Let us know how these tips work for you! We want to hear about your arm balancing adventures. Leave your comments in the section below!