As a childhood gymnast, I was undeniably stronger physically than I am as an adult, and yet I couldn't balance comfortably on my hands until sometime in my mid-20s, more than 13 years after my gymnastic "career" came to an end. And now, as a 35-year-old mom, when I would have least expected it, my arm balances, along with some of my biggest life goals, are finally beginning to flourish.
So what’s the secret? I credit this shift to some very simple life advice—advice that has been around for ages, and that I have heard over and over again in slightly different iterations. In fact, I heard it so often that I finally listened. I distilled it down into seven little words and began applying it to my arm balance practice—and (more importantly) to my life.
Here it is:
Lean forward, and lead with your heart.
In other words:
Wherever you go, go with all your heart. —Confucius
Your heart knows the way. Run in that direction. —Rumi
Only from the heart can you touch the sky. —Rumi
The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change. —Maya Angelou
This is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren't afraid. —Sheryl Sandberg
But how do you put this advice into actual practice?
Mentally, let go. Lead with your heart, not with your head. Shed self-limiting thoughts and other mind-chatter that take up space and energy, but do not help you learn how to do arm balances. Or, in the broader sense, that deter you from living out your life’s purpose.
Whenever you catch yourself thinking things like, I can’t possibly do that, My arms are too short, I am too old, or I am not strong enough, open your mouth, exhale completely, and then move forward.
Letting go in this way may help you to approach the pose differently—by incorporating a prop (resting one foot on a yoga block in crow pose, for example, while the other foot is airborne), or by making the shape of the pose on your back. Or, it may mean preparing for the pose by building strength and flexibility in key areas of the body. For example, if you’re working toward crow, you might spend time developing core, arm, and shoulder strength by refining your alignment in the transition from plank to chaturanga.
Finally, in addition to letting your heart be your guide in the metaphorical sense, physically leaning forward and leading with your heart (chest) can make all the difference when it comes to getting your feet off of the floor in an arm balance.
Leaning forward and shifting weight into the front of your hands and fingertips, rather than into the heels of your hands, will help you to stack your joints in a strong and healthy way as you prepare to take flight. Look forward, and reach your chest forward, probably a teensy bit more than your brain is suggesting you do.
Additional Tip: If you’re worried that you might face-plant, try placing a pillow, bolster, or stack of blankets in front of you.
Let’s put this advice into practice with crow pose. From standing, bend your knees and place your hands on the ground in front of you (shoulder-width apart, with fingers spread evenly), and then lift up onto the balls of your feet.
Bend your elbows back (rather than out), and let your knees splay apart so that you can squeeze your knees into your upper arms. Lift your hips slightly, look forward and lean your chest forward, shifting your weight into the fronts of your hands and your fingers. See if you can squeeze one foot in toward your seat. If that works, lower it back down and try the other foot, and then try both.
If you lean backward as you attempt crow pose, you are probably going to fall backward. So, lean forward…and most importantly, lead with your heart!