Tittibhasana, or firefly pose, is an arm balance I've been working on for ages, often with very little satisfaction—until recently. But, little by little, my years of study, practice, and cue analysis have finally coalesced into some satisfying progress. One of my favorite personal discoveries (though I’m sure someone else discovered it before I did) is propping the pose at the wall. This version doesn’t make tittibhasana exactly easy, but it does offer enough direction and support so a struggling firefly can take flight with strength and courage.
Overview of Tittibhasana
You can think of tittibhasana as a mashup between chaturanga/plank and upavistha konasana (wide-angle seated forward fold). In this pose, the arms are about shoulder-width apart and the legs press into and extend outward from the upper arms as high up as possible. The shoulders round because the legs squeeze in, but what a photo might not reveal is the oppositional force of the shoulders pressing back into the legs. The legs are as straight as possible and the balls of the feet reach forward like the top of a firefly’s antennae.
Critical Game Changer
For me, the game changer was something I heard Kino MacGregor say about sending the buttocks back in the pose. Of course, the buttocks! We often focus so much of our attention on positioning the arms and on straightening the legs that we forget about what’s happening behind us. But, in fact, the movement of the buttocks and the straightening of the legs are counterparts. I began to remember how some of my teachers past and present had offered the same cue, which I just couldn't hear over my own internal dialogue about hands needing to be behind feet and legs straight. Once I figured out how to prop myself in a way that supported this part of my tittibhasana equation, I really began to feel the difference. (Although, for sure, there is no substitution for practice.)
What You’ll Need
For this propped version of firefly, you will need a wall, a mat, a strap (my favorite one for this is the Infinity Strap, but a standard strap will work), and two blocks. lf you have any issues with bearing weight on your hands when your wrists are extended past 90 degrees (as they are in tittibhasana), you will also want to use a wedge for wrist support.
Bring the short edge of your mat to the wall, and if you’re using a wedge, place it on your mat about six inches in front of the wall and sloping away from it. Slide the loops of the Infinity Strap up your legs onto the middle of your thighs. If you are using a regular strap, make a loop that fits around both thighs with your feet a bit wider than your hips. Stack the two blocks horizontally against the wall and centered behind the wedge if you’re using one.
Face away from the wall with your feet about a foot away from it and wider than hip-distance apart. Fold forward with your knees generously bent so that you can press your buttocks against the wall and your hands into the floor or wedge. Take a moment to hinge a little more from your hips. Guide your upper arms in front of the strap and behind your thighs so that your back is broad and rounded. Place your hands on the floor or wedge slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. This is the part that had a tremendous impact on my firefly pose: As you slide your buttocks down the wall, stop frequently to press your sitting bones into the wall and deepen your hip crease, which will allow you to find more length in your spine and deeper hip flexion. Each time you pause, I recommend adjusting your body by reaching your sternum forward and sitting bones back and guiding your arms farther under your legs; these actions will give you greater control of the posture so you can build awareness and move even deeper into the prep. Your ability to press your buttocks into the wall will give you the sensation of moving back in space, which will eventually help you to lift and extend your legs. Continue to work this way until the backs of your thighs perch on your upper arms. (It’s okay if your arms are still bent or “bentish” at this point.) If your buttocks reach the blocks that's fine, but you may want to reduce the height of the blocks if it inhibits your progress and you have a good amount of wrist extension. You may need to adjust by slightly walking your feet forward, moving the wedge forward, and possibly removing one of the blocks as your thighs sit on the back of your arms. Press your hands into the floor or wedge. Press your sitting bones into the wall as you wiggle your feet out in front of you. Make sure to press your arms against your legs so you don’t collapse in the chest and place excess pressure on the sternum.
Once you've walked your feet out as much as possible, continue pressing your buttocks against the wall as you reach the balls of your feet forward until your feet lift away from the floor. Keep pressing your buttocks into the wall as you continue to straighten your legs, and keep reaching through the balls of your feet. Although your spine will be rounded, there is a sense of length in the back from the opposing forces of the hips and legs. You can then work on straightening your arms. Build up your strength here by breathing as fully into the pose as possible for a few rounds of breath.
Ways to Come Out of the Pose
To release out of the pose, you can bend your knees, place your feet on the floor, and then shift your weight into your feet to stand up. Or, you can bend your knees and sit on the blocks before extracting your arms and lifting your chest. You don’t want to sit directly on the floor without the blocks, which could place a tremendous amount of pressure on your wrists.
Keep in Mind
Each prop plays a significant role: The strap maintains the neutral position of the legs in abduction close to the sides of the body, which helps you to then adduct them by squeezing them into the upper arms. The wedge under the hands takes some pressure off the wrists since tittibhasana requires more than 90 degrees of wrist extension. The blocks prevent you from falling into more wrist extension if you were to sit on the ground from this position. The wall builds awareness of the action of the buttocks reaching back.
For me, tittibhasana is a great challenge, which naturally feeds my curiosity. Using props has been a vehicle for my deeper understanding of this arm balance. They have removed the obstacles for my continued exploration. Practice is key to progress, but practice with playful exploration turns practice into an adventure that sets fireflies free to fly brightly.
Photography: Andrea Killam