Demystifying Arm Balances: Skills and Drills


1/26/2019: We looked at crow pose and handstand specifically, but the work we explored is transferable to many arm balance variations. Practice makes proficiency. Our bodies adapt to the positions we spend the most time in - for better or worse. Find ways to move that supports the desired arm balance. Incremental not wholesale change. Hands have to become more like the feet to manage the weight of the body while balancing. A little bit of upside down time each day goes a long way in feeling strong and empowered on the hands. Invite the fear in, it’s healthy but doesn’t have to stop you. Celebrate your abilities. YOU ALL GOT UPSIDE DOWN IN SO MANY WAYS!

Regress to Progress

Move the body in ways that work the same muscles you need for handstand just in a smaller more manageable way. Give the mind/body time to adapt to your request. All your work counts. Reasonable expectations. Move mindfully, skillfully, don’t rush.

·       Teacup drills: figure eights with block on hand. 

·       Mountain pose with arms overhead. Block in each palm. Engage core. Get out of banana shape in low back.

·       Get low: Squat down on the ground and hop around. It’s simple and so effective at building strength/proficiency for balancing on your hands. Play is important!


We worked several different ways to create a more skilled handstand practice:

·        Short dog pose or dolphin pose – walk feet in till shoulders stack over hands. Push through your arms. Let your shoulders rise. 

·       From 3 legged-dog or dog pose lift and lower your heel(s). Small but mighty. Feel your weight transfer into upper body.  

·       A few 1000’ hop and swings is all it takes. Focuse on strong straight legs. Lead with the back of your waist/pelvis.

·       Learn to fall! Acknowledge the fear and be prepared to bail by picking one hand up. Round off or cartwheel out of it.

Crow and Side Crow are great low to the ground arm balances that help build confidence in the hands and arms.

SIde crow

SIde crow

Refine crow pose by working on keeping your hips low - remember it’s a squat on top of chaturanga arms. Stay low and shift forward, hug the feet up towards your bum. Using a block or blanket/pillow out in front of you provides support for the head should you need it. Hands must become active like our feet. Grab the floor with fingertips (spider hands).

<< Refine side crow by LIFTING the hips a little before coming forward - think up and over onto the one arm.

Explore crow pose from a reclined position to get a better look at the mechanics and alignment without all the work of balancing on your hands. Flip your perspective!


Blanket slides. Use a blanket/towel under your feet to pull them in towards your hands and then back out towards plank.

Jumping side to side (softly/skillfully) clearing your yoga mat (a moment to hop/engage hands). Lead up with your hips.

       Wall work: Build stamina and confidence (try just the head touch or bent knee handstand). Use a sturdy wall. Not mirrors/glass.

Kick up to touch/tap legs at the top and come down.

       Partnering: to find your true alignment and some independence in the pose. Take it to the middle of the room sometimes.

Resources for reference

For more content and breakdown of yoga movement follow me on IG  for all things yoga land related. Herehere and here are video links geared towards handstand work. 



Anatomy of a handstand:

Whole body movement

Hands – fingertips grab the mat. “Spidey hands”

Arms – especially shoulders (deltoids) and triceps strong.

Core – control your center.

Legs – especially inner thighs. Keep legs long and reaching.

Mini sequence to prepare:

Mountain Pose (handstand right side up). No banana shape! Use blocks on hands overhead to sense and feel your arms pushing. Hugging a block in your hip crease keeps you honest and gives the same sense of stability needed when upside down in handstand.

Standing shoulder flossing with a strap/belt.

Locust pose w/hands behind head (Lift elbows off mat. Lift hands off head. See pic above).

Childs pose w/alternating arm lifts. Straight arms to target muscles on the back of the shoulder.

Downward Facing Dog (reach through arms/shoulder strength)

Boat Pose/Crow Pose/Reclined Crow/Reclined Handstand Pose

Warrior 3 (balancing on the feet helps prepare the mind for balancing on the hands). Same vein.

Warrior 2 w/ alternating shoulder and chest stretch. Windmill arms - bending elbows letting hands pass behind back.

Puppy Pose (shoulder/chest stretch)  

For all the ways we can choose to spend our time, THANK YOU for getting upside down with me. Namaste!