Tittibhasana is an exhilarating arm balance that strengthens the core, legs, and arms while stretching the hamstrings and inner thighs. It requires a high degree of wrist flexion and hamstring openness. It is not recommended if your wrists, elbows, shoulders, or lower back are injured or sensitive.
To prepare for it, warm up with a sequence that includes malasana (garland pose), kakasana (crow pose), trikonasana (triangle), utthan pristhasana (lizard), and prasarita padottanasana (standing wide-angle fold).
For a version of prasarita padottanasana that closely resemble tittibhasana, practice the forward fold with the help of a wall. Stand about an arm’s length away from a wall with your back facing it. Arrange your feet so they are wide apart and parallel to each other. Come into your fold, and then reach back to place your hands on the wall, shoulder-distance apart (fingers pointing down), arms parallel to the earth. Walk your shoulders behind your legs as much as possible, and squeeze your inner thighs into your upper arms while pushing your upper arms back into your thighs. Now press your hands, the bases of the index fingers in particular, into the wall, and round your back. Press the balls of your feet, especially the bases of your big toes, into the floor, and lift your heels if you can. Even within this rounded shape, see how much you can lengthen your tailbone up toward the ceiling and the crown of your head down toward the floor. Keep a lengthening intention as you begin to shift your gaze a few inches further forward (away from the wall) and move your hips back a few inches closer to the wall. This is tittibhasana, with a different relationship to gravity.
In tittibhasana, your back will round and your shoulders will come forward. But they do not do these things passively: the shoulders press into the thighs just as the thighs press into the shoulders. The tailbone reaches back just as the heart—and eventually the balls of the feet—reach forward. Spring-loading the pose in this way prevents its collapse.
(For a detailed preparatory sequence, check out Christina Sell’s article, A Challenging Balance Pose: Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose.)
To approach tittibhasana, try the following:
Come into a standing forward fold with your feet shoulder-distance apart. If you are newer to the pose, place blocks, on their flattest settings, directly behind each heel. A higher foundation will make it easier to achieve liftoff.
Bend your knees deeply, and grab hold of your calves to snuggle one shoulder, and then the other, behind your knees. Your shoulders will round forward, but keep pushing them back against the thighs.
Place your hands flat on the mat (or on your blocks) behind your feet. A common mistake at this point is to move your hands too wide, which will hinder your ability to lift; arrange your hands shoulder-distance apart, the tips of the middle fingers grazing your heels, or just slightly wider depending on what works for you and your proportions. For the safety of your wrists, root into the floor with the bases of your index fingers, and continue to do this throughout the pose.
Bend your knees to sink your hips down, and simultaneously bend your elbows so that they point straight back, as they do in chaturanga. Perch your thighs on the shelf of your upper arms, but don’t drop all your weight down—instead of sagging your hips toward to the floor, reach your tailbone straight back.
Scoot your feet in toward each other until they almost touch. Then reach your tailbone back so much that more weight shifts into the heels of your hands; now look up and reach your heart forward. As you begin to find balance, lift your heels and perch on the kickstand of your tiptoes.
Draw your belly in to round your back and press your hands into the floor to straighten your arms more (your elbows will remain slightly bent as your upper arms continue to do the work of pressing into the thighs). These actions should supply the lift you need to hover one foot up, then the other, crossing your ankles. You can pause here, in bhujapidasana (shoulder-pressing pose), squeezing your thighs to your upper arms and your upper arms to your thighs.
Keep squeezing your thighs in as you uncross your ankles and straighten your legs, reaching them forward and out to the sides in a “v,” parallel to the earth. Press through the bases of your big toes and pull the pinky-toe sides of your feet back toward you, fanning your toes out. Imagine the mounds of your big toes are pressing into a big rubber band; your tailbone is reaching back into the same band, pulling it taut.
For the full version Iyengar demonstrates in Light on Yoga, dip your hips toward the ground and stretch your legs forward and up like antennae. Stay inside the imaginary rubber band, and continue to press your shoulders back into your thighs.
Refine the pose by breathing into it: fireflies need oxygen for the chemical reaction that produces their bioluminescence. Draw your belly in with each exhale and keep a whisper of this engagement on your inhale. The firefly’s light organ, low in its abdomen, is responsible for producing its heatless light. As you activate the abdominal support that will help you create and sustain the magic of tittibhasana, imagine a glow radiating from your navel center.