Summertime is my favorite season for one simple fact—fireflies. Seeing their little flashing bottoms brings a smile to my face, and on a deeper, non-comical level, there is a sense of awakening while witnessing illumination in the midst of darkness. If you haven’t seen these critters up close and personal, that ought to be a priority for this summer.
There is a yoga pose named after these glowing insects, called tittibhasana (firefly pose). In this pose, as our legs extend forward they resemble the firefly’s antennae, and our human head and torso are similar to the insect’s head and thorax. Its abdomen looks like our hips when we send them back into space as we balance on our two hands (as opposed to actual fireflies that balance on six legs!).
The physical comparisons between firefly pose and the insect’s shape are pretty easy to see. However, there is also a correspondence between the symbolism of inner light and a yogi’s work and attentiveness.
Fireflies aren’t flies, but actually winged beetles in the family known as Lampyridae. What makes most people “ooh” and “ahh” rather than be repulsed by these flying beetles is that they glow from the inside—their inner light literally shines through.
Isn’t that what we seek in yoga, to remove the veil of darkness so that our spirit may radiate outward?
"Shining” in the pose doesn’t mean it has to look a certain way at all. Rather, it’s about honoring your process and discovering the beauty of your firefly’s unique form—even if your feet don’t leave the ground.
Tittibhasana is a challenging pose physically, and it can also challenge you mentally. After all, it can be difficult to “allow your inner light to shine” as you make your way into a complex arm balance. But “shining” in the pose doesn’t mean it has to look a certain way at all. Rather, it’s about honoring your process and discovering the beauty of your firefly’s unique form—even if your feet don’t leave the ground.
Remember, fireflies are seemingly normal beings with an ability to connect to their inner light, just like you and me.
Tittibhasana requires (among other things) flexion and abduction at the hip joint, i.e., forward bending at the hips with the thighs a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
After warming the body up with cat/cow, child’s pose, some core work, and sun salutations, do some wide-legged forward bends—such as prasarita padottanasana (standing wide-leg forward fold) and upavistha konasana (seated wide-leg forward fold)—to wake up hip flexion and abduction.
These forward bends will also stretch your hamstrings, an essential for firefly pose.
Inspire Your Shoulders
Your upper arms will eventually come behind and under your legs to create a shelf for your thighs. Preparing the shoulders with binds such as baddha parsvakonasana (bound extended side angle pose) and a bent-knee one-leg-bound uttanasana (standing forward bend)—also known as twisted trunk pose—can help the action of joining the upper body to the lower body and working your shoulders under your legs.
Make sure to squeeze the inner thighs into the upper arms. In tittibhasana, this adduction will keep the legs in the air and attached to the upper body.
This is the point where you can start working with the arm balance. From a wide bent-leg uttanasana (feet wider than shoulder-width), work your shoulders under your thighs, one at a time, until you are able to place your palms flat on the floor or on blocks behind you, with your fingers pointing forward.
Once your upper arms are tucked behind and under your thighs, hug your elbows toward each other until your upper arms are parallel and resemble your arms in chaturanga dandasana (four-limbed staff pose). Externally rotate your upper arms as you would in chaturanga.
Attract Your Foundation
One reason fireflies glow is to attract a mate. In this instance, your hands and the floor (or blocks) are the perfect couple.
As you press your hands into the floor, spread your shoulder blades away from the midline (protraction of the shoulder blades). Evenly round your spine (with the exception of the neck since you will look forward in the asana), gently lengthening the tailbone down while avoiding over-rounding the upper back.
Your back should look like it does in bakasana, crane pose. (Poses like cat pose, bakasana, and bhujapidasana, arm pressure balance, can also be excellent preps for this reason.)
Aspire to Find Balance
Now it’s time to trust your balance. Gradually shift more weight into your hands by sitting back and down onto your upper arms.
Keep pressing your hands into the floor and protracting your shoulder blades. Hug your inner thighs in toward the midline as you draw your navel in toward your spine. See if you can lift your heels so you’re just balancing on the tips of your toes.
Then, spread your toes to lift them away from the floor as well.
Before moving into firefly, find your balance first in bhujapidasana, crossing your ankles in front of your arms, continuing to push the floor away to move your arms toward straight.
Brighten Your Feet
Once you've found your balance in bhujapidasana, “brighten” your feet.
Uncross your ankles and begin to straighten your legs by reaching out through the balls of your feet, which will also help to keep the inner thighs engaged. The legs have to be strong to keep the energy evenly distributed throughout your body.
Just as there are different species of fireflies, there are also different species of tittibhasana: one in which the hips, legs, and balls of the feet are all on the same plane (pictured above), and one in which the hips move down toward the floor and the balls of the feet reach up toward the ceiling (pictured below).
Choose whichever version speaks to you and works best for your body as well as the rest of your sequence.
Not only do fireflies glow to reveal their true inner light, but they also understand the meaning of union through phase synchronization. Dare I say that they are the true yogis! Phase synchronization in fireflies (specifically in Southeast Asia, but there are a few more regions where they do this) is when they glow at the same time in random patterns. Some will gather on a tree ready to mate and bystanders see the blink-blink-blink, then darkness, and then again flash-flash-flash, and into complete darkness.
Lighting up in unison is a spectacular event to witness. It is also something you can witness in your own body through the practice of tittibhasana.
By synchronizing all of the elements that compose this arm balance, you can awaken your entire body at once. You become in tune with the balance as you reach your hips back and your toes forward. With weight evenly distributed in your hands and a soft but steady gaze forward, you can even out the rhythm and pace of your breath in this challenging yet illuminating posture.
Let your internal light grow and emanate from the inside out, attracting lightness and hope while inspiring others to do the same.
Be luminous and enjoy the flight!