In the fullness of summer, rest and relaxation help counter the heat. You can also use the warmth and expansiveness of the season to introduce a few new poses to your practice. Arm balances build the upper body, strengthen and stabilize the shoulders, extend the wrists, tone the abdomen and legs and increase circulation in the chest. They increase prana and build energy, inspiration, courage and mental focus. And, for most students, arm balances add a dimension of skillful challenge and novelty that boosts the sense of fun and unlimited possibility in any practice.
This month, we’ll weave two arm balances to energize your practice and help internalize your energy, restoring and revitalizing your mind. From being deeply flexed in Parsva Bakasana (Side Crane Pose), you’ll spread your wings and radiate toward Eka Pada Koundinyasana I (The Pose dedicated to the Sage Koundinya I) to explore the play of focused concentration and energetic expansion. Both postures require a deep twisting action in the abdomen and chest that will nourish and rejuvenate the spine.
Step your feet close together and lower into a squat, deepening the fold in the front of your ankles and the back of your knees. It’s fine if your heels don’t touch the floor. You can rest them on a folded blanket, or keep them lifted while hugging your thighs strongly together.
As you inhale, draw up through the sides of your waist and lengthen along the spine. As you exhale, twist to your right. Hook your left elbow to the outside of your right thigh, and stay for a few breaths, lengthen your spine as you inhale and turn your ribs more and more to the right on each exhalation. You are working to reduce the space between your torso and your thigh, as you would in a seated twist like Marichyasana C (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi I) or in a standing twist like Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose).
Bring your hands to the floor and nestle the outside of your right thigh in against your elbows. The left elbow may rest more toward your knee and the right elbow will likely land closer to your hip. You may be able to plant the left elbow just against the middle of the right outer thigh. If that is the case for you, do so and continue to root through your right hand.
Keep your elbows from flying out as you bend them, as though lowering into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-limbed Staff Pose). Keep your head lifted and your gaze toward the floor, just beyond the tip of your nose. Lean your heart forward, spread your fingers widely and lightly grip the floor with the pads of your fingers. You can let your upper back round a bit as you float your toes off the floor. Can you keep the heads of your shoulders from rounding inward?
Now, find and integrate the pairs of opposites in your body. Lift your chest, letting your heart lighten and extend forward. Straighten both legs; your right leg will reach out to your left side and your left leg will shoot straight back. Reach strongly through the soles of your feet, lift the flesh of your inner thighs up toward your groins, scissor the legs and keep turning your waist to the right.
Stay and play. Keep a steady, soft gaze and feel your breath soften and slow. You may need to feed your inhalations a bit initially, but as steadiness of the body increases, notice how the mind and the breath follow. As the breath becomes slower, notice how the steadiness in the body increases.
When you are ready, bend your knees and lower your feet back to the floor.
Or, for an extra challenge, root strongly through your hands, draw your chest forward and shoot both legs back, untwisting your torso and landing in Chaturanga Dandasana. Keep your shoulders from falling forward and roll over the tops in your toes for Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog Pose), then curl your toes under and roll both thighs back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog). After a few breaths, come out to play on the second side.
Chrisandra teaches the ancient art of yoga with a few modern technologies for rewiring brain, body and heart. Click here for her weekly schedule. She leads The Heart of Renewal Retreats in California and beyond. Click here for information about the Labor Day Retreat August 31-September 3. Email Chrisandra@gmail.com.
Photography by Ryan Scott. Ryanedwardscott@gmail.com