Most who practice yoga have come to realize that the practice requires a certain physical strength that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the image of strength in our head. Every yogi has seen ta physically in shape gym goer walk in to a yoga class and struggle in his/her first down dog. The reason for this is because there are tons of muscles in the body, and all of them have a purpose. The ones you see on the surface are called the superficial muscles, and their job is primarily to create big movements like swinging a baseball bat, jumping, climbing, etc. While many Yoga postures and transitions require the use of these muscles, the Deep muscles or stabilizing muscles are often most used. In this video I go over the muscle groups that I find are most important for the majority of arm balances.
The muscles I speak of in this video are the Serratus Anterior, and the 4 layers of abdominals (rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis). Serratus Anterior is incredibly important for many arm balances because it creates stability in the shoulder blades, and moves the body away from the ground. In the “Handstand Strength Training” video I give exercises in plank pose to help students develop the strength of this muscle. When this muscles is fully engaged in plank the body is further away from the ground. The same is true in arm balances. Further from the ground begins to feel lighter and easier, and as mentioned in the video above, your wrists will feel better as well. The reason you feel lighter and more at ease when the Serratus Anterior is fully engaged is simple- all muscles have an easier to contracting when they are fully shortened. Think of your bicep muscle- Isn’t it easier to hold a weight in your hand when your you hand is closest to your shoulder vs half way down at the “holding a tray” position. Part of this is relationship to gravity but even if you changed the angle of your body that would still be the easiest position for the muscles to be engaged. This is the same reason why its easier to do a little tiny pull up vs going through full range of motion from straight arms all the way up to bent arms. If you are looking to build strength in the Serratus Anterior check out the Handstand Strength Training.
The four abdominals have multiple functions including flexion (rounding) of the spine, twisting, side bending, stabilizing, and compressing/lifting inner organs (primarily the transverse abdominis). Depending on the pose, many arm balances require one or more abdominals to engage because of the shape, and because they have the ability to make the mid section more compact. The more compact you feel, the lighter you will feel because all the extremities tend to pull in closer to the center of gravity when the abdominals engage. What I am not going over in this video is the important roll that your legs play within all arm balances. I will be releasing another video on Youtube soon showing you how the legs relate the core. If you are interested in finding out when that video goes up subscribe to my newsletter and I will let you know. Developing strength in the abdominals has long been a part of the fitness industry, but until recently it was purely for visual purposes. Most people associate having a six pack with health, but the reality is that its more important to have core intelligence then strength. A little strength and a lot of awareness go a very long way, much further then a lot of strength and little awareness of how to use it. Developing strength through applied actions such as doing handstand, crow pose, or exercises that produce greater intelligence in your body is what I focus on in my handstand and arm balance practice. As a result not only do I feel strong in my asana practice but my back feels great, and I am able to apply the awareness to other activities that require body intelligence. For my favorite core strengtheners you click here, or if you are looking for free ways to learn, simply search youtube for how to strengthen the 4 muscles of the core (I searching each muscle separately). Anyone who offers an application for the strength and not just the exercise is likely thinking along the same lines of “muscle intelligence” vs strength. Remember you want to know what the muscle does intellectually and know what it feels like in your body. That combination will make it easier to apply later on to your practice!
Plank at the Wall
Taking plank at the wall is one of the best ways to truly develop a proprioception for protracting the shoulder blades. As mentioned in the video protraction is when you push the shoulder blades a part from one another, and they move around your rip cage. This is an activation of the serratus anterior muscles which tend to require strengthening for most people. At the wall, you can focus on the action without the requirement of the strength.
Flexion of the Spine
Flexion of the spine in arm balances requires the muscular activation of the rectus abdominals, obliques and likely the deep core muscles such as the poses. While it is possible to do arm balances with the core completely relaxed and still hold the postures, it tends to be easier with the recruitment of them. To develop strength in your core, I highly recommend my top exercises on the Handstand Training video.
Crow With Protraction and flexion
Putting the two actions together might sound complicated but actually the two actions go hand in hand. Protraction makes spinal flexion easier to access and visa versa. I recommend first trying this in plank posture. If you haven’t yet watch the two blogs on Chaturanga, this is the best place to start for integrating protraction into your arm balances. After you’ve worked with chaturanga, if you feel confident balancing crow, than you can try applying these actions.
First Awareness, Then Strength.
It’s easy to try and jump ahead and go straight to our most challenging arm balance posture and try to apply new actions to it. This approach is ok but if you find that you are not getting it or not feeling a difference it’s likely because your body needs to develop an awareness around the action itself before it can build strength. We need to create the feed back loop in our body from thought to action to sensation and back again. Once that feed back loop is established strength can be built through repetition.
Thanks for joining me here, I hope these tips help with your practice and/or your teaching. Please share your comments, questions or requests and I will get back to you.
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