• Posted on June 26th, 2014 12:30:00 PM Jason Crandell 7 comments

    Yoga Anatomy in Action: Safer, Stronger Arm Balances


    In Vasithasana (Side-Plank) some teachers have told me to stack my bottom arm directly under my shoulder. Other teachers have told me to step my hand in front of my shoulder. What is the safest, most effective alignment for the bottom arm in this posture?

    I used to be a diehard stacker. And, for what it’s worth, I lived to tell about it. So, if you’re a stacker, you shouldn’t lose sleep over my answer to this question—there’s hope for you, too. My position changed when I started working with Paul Roache, MD on our Essential Anatomy program for YogaGlo. Paul is board certified in both Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. He’s a shoulder specialist and he took me aside after class one day to talk about this very issue. It took him less than 30 seconds to show me why taking my hand slightly in front of my shoulder was a more dynamic and sustainable choice than stacking my bottom arm.

    In simple terms, the body makes two lines in Side Plank. One line runs from the shoulder to the bottom hand. The second line runs from your feet through your legs, torso and upper body. This second line is not parallel to the floor—it’s sloped at about 20-30 degrees (see photos below). This means that if you stack your bottom arm directly under your shoulder you are creating less than a 90-degree angle in your ball and socket joint since a sloped line and a vertical line don’t form 90-degrees when they intersect. In this situation they form about a 60-70 degree angle and this is a less effective angle for weight bearing in this posture.

    In order to create a 90-degree angle in your ball and socket joint, you need to move your bottom hand slightly forward of your shoulder. If you have one sloped line and you want to create a 90-degree angle, you need an equivalent slope in your other line. This means that the bottom arm should be staggered slightly forward of the shoulder joint, not placed directly underneath it.

    Here’s why stepping your bottom hand forward to create a 90-degree angle in your ball and socket is the most safe and effective choice:

    -The 90-degree angle limits wear and tear by distributing the stress of the posture more evenly throughout the ball and socket (your Glenohumeral joint).

    -The 90 degree angle helps you engage the external rotators of your upper-arm (Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Supraspinatus) and decreases the likelihood that your Humerus bone will rotate forward and down. This takes tension off the front of your shoulder joint, especially in more advanced versions of the posture. This may help minimize the potential for Rotator Cuff strain in the posture.

    -The 90 degree angle helps you engage your Serratus Anterior, Lattisumus Dorsi and lower-fibers of the Trapezius muscle. When you fire these muscles, you draw your shoulder away from your ear and support the posture from your upper back. This decreases stress on the front of your shoulder.

    -The 90 degree angle requires you to use your core more. In the short term, this may make the posture more challenging, especially if you’re used to sinking your weight down on the arm and loading the front of your shoulder. In the long run, using your core more will strengthen your midsection—especially your Quadratus Lumborum—and take pressure off your bottom shoulder joint.


    Warrior II
    Warrior 2 provides you with an opportunity to feel the action of externally rotating your arms without bearing weight on them. Once in Warrior 2, rotate your palms and elbow creases toward the ceiling. Feel your arms externally rotate so that you can reconnect to this sensation when you’re in Side Plank.

    Warrior II

    Triangle Pose
    Triangle pose provides another opportunity to externally rotate your arms while warming up the rest of your body for Side Plank. In the posture, focus on rotating your bottom elbow crease toward the front of your mat and drawing your shoulder blades away from you ears.

    Triangle Pose

    Down Dog
    The arms in Down Dog and Side Plank are in different positions, but they’re creating similar actions. Try this: From Down Dog, bring your shoulders slightly forward toward plank. Rotate your inner elbows slightly forward and feel the engagement of your external rotators, deep inside your shoulders. Maintain this engagement and slowly draw back into Down Dog.

    Down Dog

    Side Plank with Bottom Arm Stacked
    From Plank Pose with your arms stacked, roll to the outside of your right foot. Place your left leg on top of your right leg and reach your top arm toward the ceiling. Take a few breaths before returning to plank.

    Side Plank Variation Stacked Arm

    Side Plank with Bottom Shoulder at 90-Degree Angle
    Start in Down Dog. Bring your shoulders slightly forward toward plank. Step your right hand slightly forward—about 3 to 6 inches. Externally rotate you bottom arm, roll onto the outside of your right foot and stack your top leg on top of your bottom leg. Press the floor away with your bottom arm and draw your bottom shoulder blade down your back. Take a few breaths before returning to Down Dog.

    Side Plank Arm at Angle

    Side Plank Variation with Bottom Arm Stacked
    Repeat the same actions as the earlier version of Side Plank with your bottom arm stacked. Use your top arm to bring your top foot into tree pose. Take a few breaths before returning to Plank.

    Side Plank Variation Stacked

    Side Plank Variation with Bottom Shoulder at 90-Degree Angle
    Repeat the same actions as the earlier version of Side Plank with your bottom shoulder at a 90-degree angle. Use your top arm to bring your top foot into tree pose. Take a few breaths before returning to Down Dog.

    Side Plank Variation Angle

    Become an authority on yoga anatomy and yoga sequencing by joining Jason Crandell’s online trainings.

    Jason Crandell is a natural teacher and author with more than 15 years of experience. His accessible, grounded classes integrate the best elements of power yoga, anatomical precision and mindfulness teachings.  Considered a “teachers-teacher,” Jason has taught on countless teacher-training faculties, leads trainings globally, and regularly presents teacher-training content at esteemed conferences. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Posted on March 4th, 2013 7:00:56 AM YogaGlo No comments

    Arm balances can be some of the most fun and exhilarating yoga poses to practice, but for a lot of people, they can be scary and intimidating. For one, most people have a fear of falling. Even though we constantly say that yoga is a practice and that it’s ok to fall, people automatically correlate falling with failure. Second, a lot of people shy away from arm balances because they feel like they don’t have the balance or the upper body strength. If you think about it, we don’t use our arms, shoulders and chest that often. We are on our feet most of the time, so it’s pretty common, especially for women, to lack the upper body strength that is needed to do some of these poses.

    A great way to start building balance and upper body strength for arm balances is practicing plank pose (maybe adding in some mini push-ups) and downward dog. Practicing plank is great because it forces you to engage your arms, strengthening the weight bearing muscles of the arm that are crucial for succeeding in more advanced arm balances.

    Arm balances have a few very important benefits. They can help build upper body strength which in turn, builds bone density which over time, can prevent the loss of mineralization in the bones in the upper body – also known as osteoporosis. Arm balances also require a certain amount of balance which can prevent falls and broken bones which is important especially as we get older.

    Arm Balances

    You can use our Search Feature to search through all of our Arm Balance classes on your own. To get you started without searching, we’re highlighting six arm balance classes in a variety of styles, levels and durations that will be sure to help you cultivate endurance and stamina.

    • Breaking Down Tripod Headstand & Arm Balances with Christina Sell: A steady and informative class that explores the component parts of tripod headstand and several introductory arm balances. Expect hip opening, strong core work, a few inspiring pep talks and a chance to refine and deepen your understanding of these commonly practiced postures.
    • Continuous Arm Balance Practice with Elena Brower: This continuous arm balance practice focuses on one detail; broadening your collarbones to soften and inhabit your heart. Each time you broaden your collarbones, feel your heart emerge, open, expand and get softer; this allows you to receive and ground energy to support you in your arm balances. A full range of poses from Pincha Mayurasana all the way to Eka Pada Koundinyasana II, with Vashistha variations and a few other fun surprises. Return to this one to play and chart your progress.
    • Arm Balancing for Beginners with Kathryn Budig: Find your physical and mental power to dive into arm balancing! Forget fear this is geared towards the 1/2 student learning to balance. Crow, hoping into Crow, Baby Crow, Flying Pigeon, 3 Side Planks and Side Crow are broken down in detail.
    • Arm Balance Flow with Dice lida-Klein: A full spectrum 90 minute class. We try to navigate through as many arm balances as possible in 90 minutes. Handstands, forearm balance, eka pada koundinyasana I & II, ashtavakrasana (crooked pose), vasisthasana (side plank), visvamitrasana and even titthibasana (firefly pose). A strong standing section plus an ample amount of core work is followed by time in inversions, a few backbends and twists accompanied by some forward folds. Enjoy my fellow yogis. Long live the full 90min class!
    • Build Up to Handstand Mentally & Physically with Noah Maze: Get educated and systematically prepared for handstand with sun salutations, shoulder openers, standing poses, and work at the wall. Whether you are a proficient handstander, or whether you wish for the courage to start a handstand practice, this class will help you engage and refine this powerful pose, while increasing your confidence and trust in yourself.
    • Exploration of 3rd Series Arm Balances with Jodi Blumstein: This class is an improvisational exploration of the 3rd series Arm Balances. The third series is called “Sthira Baga”, or The Breath of God. This sequence is traditionally taught after the student has been practicing for some time. But here we are approaching the arm balances in a lighthearted fashion that any advanced Flow student can also follow. You will need 2 blocks and a strap for the class.


  • Posted on November 23rd, 2009 2:57:41 PM admin No comments


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