Looking for a way to make forearmstand more accessible? More challenging? Or maybe you’re just looking for a few fresh ideas for #ForearmFriday.
Check out these four forearm balancing variations, suitable for a variety of skill levels and practice intentions.
1. Headless Headstand with Prayer Hands
This variation is called “headless headstand” because the crown of your head is hovering away from the floor, not pressing into the floor. (It’s also my go-to “peak pose” if I’m teaching on Halloween because the name tends to evoke the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame).
Why it’s awesome: Headless headstand is the precursor for both pincha mayurasana (literally “feathered peacock pose,” more commonly just referred to as “forearmstand”) and sirshasana (headstand). Though it may seem a little harder at first to find your balance in headless headstand than traditional head-on-the-floor headstand, it’s overall a less risky pose for your neck, and it's important to cultivate the necessary shoulder strength and mobility here before you practice with your head on the floor. As far as pincha is concerned, practicing with hands in prayer is a little more stable than the “classic” parallel forearmstand, and it’s an excellent place to start if you’re just learning forearm-balancing inversions, or just starting to take them away from the wall.
If you’re new to forearm standing, practice with a wall in front of you to build confidence and avoid accidentally flipping over.
How to do it: Start on forearms and knees with your shoulders stacked directly above your elbows. Keeping your elbows where they are, bring your hands together into prayer position so you can press down into the entire pinky side of your forearms, wrists, and hands. From here, tuck your toes under, and press up into dolphin pose. Keep your shoulders stacked over your elbows. Walk your feet forward toward your elbows. (If you find that you’re collapsing into your shoulders, walk your feet back again and stick with dolphin for the time being.) Gaze back toward your legs. Resist your outer forearms in toward each other, and at the same time press them into the floor as though you were pushing it away from you. Your head should remain off the floor at all times.
From here, lift one of your legs, bend your standing-leg knee, and kick up into a forearm balance. When you arrive in the pose, continue to hug your outer forearms in toward each other and push the floor away. Instead of gazing toward your hands, tuck your chin slightly so that the crown of your head hovers away from the floor.
If you’re practicing at a wall, instead of trying to lift your feet up off the wall one at a time, see if you can lift them off together by pushing the floor away and reaching up through your heels.
For a fun variation: Once you feel stable in the pose, try practicing with a fun leg variation like garudasana (eagle legs). From there, I often like to play with taking it into what I call “double arrow pose”: From garudasana legs, bend your bottom leg as well so that your shins are parallel to the floor and your toes are pointing in the same direction as your fingers.
2. Pincha Mayurasana Holding a Block
Pincha mayurasana differs from headless headstand in that your forearms are parallel to one another, and it’s also a little bit more of a backbend. Instead of keeping the crown of your head hovering away from the floor, as your chest moves forward into the backbend, your head moves along with it so you look forward slightly.
Why it’s awesome: Holding a block in pincha can help prevent elbows from splaying out. A lot of students are familiar with the L-shaped grip (hugging the “L” of the thumbs and index fingers around the edges of the block). That’s cool if it works for you, but this grip does tend to shift more weight into the outer wrists. If you find that the L-grip doesn’t feel so stable for this reason, try the following variation instead.
How to do it: Set up on forearms and knees. Grasp the block with your palms on either side—fingers around the sides so that the index fingers line up with the upper edge of the blocks, and thumbs on top (see photo).
Keeping your shoulders over your elbows, tuck your toes under, and press up into dolphin. Then walk in, and kick up. Once you’re balancing on your forearms, start to move your chest forward, and look forward slightly without crunching the back of your neck. Press down into your forearms and stretch straight up through your inner heals. As with the previous variation, if you’re practicing at a wall, see if you can press down and reach up so much that both of your heels come off the wall together.
For a fun leg variation: If you feel stable in the pose, play with separating your legs like splits. If you’d prefer to try this at a wall, set yourself up for forearmstand a little closer than a leg-length away from the wall. Everyone’s exact starting distance will depend on individual body proportions and hamstring flexibility, but erring on the side of being “too close” to the wall is a good idea at first. (You want to be close enough so that you know for sure that the wall will be there to catch you!) You can always lower down and move further away if needed. Come into your forearm stand from dolphin like usual: lift one of your legs, bend your standing-leg knee, and kick up, then bringing the foot of the leg that you lifted right to the wall. Simply push away from the wall to come down.
3. Pincha Mayurasana (or Pincha Prep) with Palms Up
If you’re feeling fairly stable in your forearmstand, this variation offers a great way to mix things up. And if you’re still working on balance, practicing the setup in dolphin is still a fabulous way to work with shoulder integration. (Note that even if you’re a pincha pro, working with this variation at the wall is highly recommended at first!)
Why it’s awesome: Practicing with palms up will help you to better access the external rotation of the upper arms in pincha, which helps to stabilize your shoulder blades and release tension in the neck and upper back. You might also feel that this enhanced external rotation helps you to feel a greater sense of “lightness” in the pose as you press down into the floor and stretch up through your heels.
How to do it: Start on forearms and knees with a block between your hands. Instead of grasping the block this time, spin your palms up so that the backs of your hands come to (or toward) the floor, and hug the block with the pinky sides of your hands and wrists. You might be surprised by how challenging it actually is to spin your hands down toward the floor!
Keep your shoulders over your elbows, and then with your toes tucked under, press up into dolphin. In dolphin, stretch out through your pinkies, spin your thumbs down, and press into the center of your forearms to cultivate the aforementioned sense of lightness. Maintain that as you stay in dolphin for a few breaths (perhaps walking your feet a little closer to your hands, or lifting one leg and then the other), or if you’re feeling relatively stable and have a regular forearm practice, try kicking up.
If you’ve spent any time purusing asana pics on Instagram, you’re likely familiar with hollowbacks, which have become somewhat of a yoga selfie staple. (You may also have discovered that either Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” or Fabolous’ “Holla Back” gets stuck in your head every single time you see, practice, or think about this asana. Don’t worry. It’s normal. It will pass.) But even if you’re not so into the selfie scene, you can still have fun working with this forearmstand variation.
Make sure that you feel really solid and comfortable in your headless headstand before you try to backbend in it (which is really what a hollowback is).
Why it’s awesome: If you’re like me, and scorpion isn’t really your jam (or even if it is, and you’re just looking to add a little variety to your forearmstand repertoire), hollowbacks are a nifty way to take your backbend practice upside down without having to worry about getting your feet anywhere near your head!
How to do it: As with the previous variation, it’s a smart idea to practice at a wall at first. Or you could always take some inspiration from Instagram (Insta-ration?) and practice against a tree, archway, or some pop art-inspired graffiti in Brooklyn.
Start with your hands close to the wall (or wall equivalent)—fingers almost all the way up against it. If you give the pose a try and discover that you’d like to take the backbend a little deeper, start a little further away from the wall next time.
Set up like headless headstand, shoulders over elbows, hands together in prayer, and come up into dolphin. Hug your upper arms toward each other, push the floor away, then walk your feet forward and float up.
Once you’re up, tuck your chin slightly, so that you’re looking in toward the front of the mat, not at the wall.
Keep pushing the floor away and move the backs of your thighs to (or toward) the wall. It’s important to keep your low belly active here so that you don’t collapse into your low back. Narrow your pelvic points (aka anterior superior iliac spine, hip-points, or frontal hip bones) like you’re cinching a drawstring, engage between your pubic bone and navel as well (like zipping a zipper), and stretch up through your inner heels.
Keep that activation in your belly as you move your chest back through your arms (away from the wall).
A fun variation/taking it away from the wall: Working with a bent-knee variation (sometimes called “charging scorpion”) is a great way to practice taking your hollowback away from the wall.
I recommend first trying the bent-knee hollowback at the wall, and then moving away a little bit at a time as you feel confident and stable.
To try the bent-knee variation from your hollowback at the wall, keep your hips on the wall, and bend your knees one at a time to come into the pose (your toes will be touching the wall). Keep the support in your belly and continue to push the floor away as you move your chest through your arms.
If you’re ready to take your hollowback away from the wall (i.e., you’re not collapsing into your shoulders, you feel SUPER stable and confident practicing AT the wall, and you’re ready for a new challenge), start by coming into headless headstand—not backbending just yet. Once you’re stable in headless headstand, bend your knees in toward your chest. Continue to keep your core active as you push the floor away, draw your chest through your arms, and reach back through your hips, making the “hollowback” shape.
Maybe, eventually, you'll work toward straightening your legs from here. (One of my best friends refers to this variation as “Tetris pose” because, well, it does pretty much resemble a lone Tetris block just chilling by itself in the middle of a room.) Note that you’ll want to be pretty comfortable with kicking over into a bent knee dvi pada viparitta dandasana (wheel pose on forearms) before you try this (or any hollowback variation sans wall), because it’s pretty easy to overshoot and flip over. If you’re not so cool with that possibility at the moment, stick with hollowbacks at the wall for the time being.
Whichever variations you choose, have fun getting your forearmstand on, and most of all, enjoy the process! As always, if you have questions, concerns, or are brand new to any of these variations, check in with a qualified teacher before attempting.