Arm Balances: A Journey & Tips (Part. 1?)
Hello! Today I'd like to talk about arm balances, my history with them, where I stand currently, and what I'm doing to work towards a flippity future.
Arm balances may seem like they require 1 thing, STRENGTH, but through this journey of mine I've come to realize that for me, strength is only one of many components. I also realize compiling 27 years of experiences into a blog post is a bit much, so, to make today's journey more organized for my brain and yours we'll go in sections: My Past, My Present, 3 Things I'm Working On. So let's begin!
My Past: Gymnastics & First Entering Yoga
First thing's first, I have always been tall (born 22 inches) and have been considered plus-size since about 6 years old. That being said, I grew up learning gymnastics. Yes I could roll through a split, I did cartwheels, round-offs, back walkovers etc. Even though I did all of that it always took me longer to learn how to do it in my body than everyone else. Like my brain fully understood what was supposed to happen, but my body was like "meh...nope" which took up some time. When it came to arm balances I always had 2 spotters (usually my teacher and my dad) who would support me on either sides or arms/legs. So I always hand to find a way to get out of their hands. TBH as a kid that was the easiest way for me to figure out how to get into my own body to figure stuff out. Funnily enough even as an adult I find myself using that method when working with another teacher!
My Present: Yoga Instructor & Gymnastic Flashbacks
Fun fact: Everything I tell my class, when practicing, is stuff I tell myself!
It's more than a "you got this!" when it comes to getting my feet off the ground. In my body, it's like preparing a rocket for take off. Making sure what needs to engage is engages, getting my energy at the right level, mental focus, breath, appropriate set up etc. I know I like to feel that the checklist is complete and I'm ready for take off, so that's what I like to offer to my class as well.
More specifically, as a student, I find myself in a similar place to when I did gymnastics. It takes longer for me to learn how certain postures work for my body. Aside from being tall & plus-sized I have genu valgum (knocked knees), lordosis (sway back), and my legs are proportionally longer than my arms. This means that every yoga anatomy book that is based on straight-sized people with proportioned body parts takes some decoding for me to be able to apply the knowledge to my body. For example, some people are able to access their entire back (from base of the neck to tail) in order to shift into a chin stand. In my body, if I accidentally give just a smidge too much to my lower back it causes extreme pinching pain, which is one of the reasons why I talk about a supported spine in class so much😅
Just like when I did gymnastics, I get what's supposed to happen but it takes some maneuvering for me to make it work in my body.
3 Things I'm Working On: Getting Off the Ground
Experimenting with Set Up: It's no secret that I love blocks, so I'm bringing them on this journey too. Especially for shapes like bakasana, eka pada koundinyasana 2, Ganda Bherundasana & more. Also when I say experiment I mean EXPERIMENT. I've been putting blocks under my forehead, shoulders, thigh, and between my hands for a variety of postures. As I've said in a previous blog post, I own 4 blocks, so I use up to 4 blocks or if I'm at the studio I use up to 6. Aside from blocks I also play with how close I am to the wall. Playing with how I can trust that I can support my self without it or find that I can transition into an arm balance easier with a little more space because sometimes my butt finds the wall before my feet do. Pretty much I'm playing around with a purpose 😅
Building Strength: Second, I'm trying not to skip arm day. Meaning I'm holding more planks, focusing on the fine details of chaturanga, and doing exercises to strengthen my deltoid and pectoral muscles (which are 2 areas that could use a little more attention in terms of strengthening).
Finding New Ways In: Seriously this could be a blog post in itself, but to summarize, just like in math, there's more than one way to solve the equation. Every teacher, book, YouTube video, IG Live class can teach the same pose a different way. Try everything! Even if the teacher doesn't look like you. Try out their method, manipulate it, flip it and reverse it, you might find a way in that works for you. Now, if you find a teacher that does what you want to do AND they have a similar build to you, TAKE CLASS. Take as many of their classes as you can and really pay attention to how they cue, find that cue in your body and your feet might lift. For me I found a teacher at Laughing Lotus named Victor (Instagram: @llstudioyoga @vrcolletti) who has curves and can FLY! I take his class whenever I can and have found that I can fly either on my own or with his hand on my shin (pre-covid). So even if you feel like you've tried every way in. Keep trying! You might surprise yourself... then fall over from being surprised 😂
There you have it! An overview of my journey with arm balances! *REMINDER: THIS IS BASED ON MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE* so what I have found works for me might not do a thing for you!
If you have an area of this overview that you'd like more details on, leave it in the comments and that might be rolled into a part 2 💜