Bhujapidasana, “arm-pressure” or "shoulder-pressing” pose, is wonderful for building strength in the wrists and shoulders as well as creating a deep stretch in the hips and back. It's also a less fear-inducing arm balance than, say, bakasana (crane pose), in which you have to send your weight so far forward that you may worry about bumping your noggin—if you are going to fall in bhujapidasana, you will probably land on your bum.
I've found bhujapidasana to be an exhilarating, simple, yet complex arm balance that intrigues students. But perhaps because its shape is quite different from other arm balances, it can also seem a bit intimidating. Personally, I've stayed away from this one in the past because I have a sensitive tailbone and it doesn't take too kindly to falls. However, these two propped versions provide enough support to explore this posture with less possibility of falling backward.
What you’ll need: two blocks and a chair (any sturdy chair will suffice).
Benefits of this variation: Balancing on the hands is taken out of the equation. As the hips are fully supported on the chair, you can work on deepening the hip creases, adducting the legs, crossing the ankles, and the placement of your arms. And all of this can happen without worrying about falling back or placing too much weight on the wrists and shoulders right from the beginning.
Setup: Place each block horizontally on its lowest setting in front of each of the two front chair legs. Sit on the chair so your feet are flat on the floor. This will help to determine how far back you should sit in the chair to begin. Place your feet outside of the blocks. Hinge forward at your hips and place your hands on the blocks. If this feels awkward because the blocks are too high, place your hands on the floor instead.
Weave your arms under your thighs, so that your inner knees come high up onto your upper arms or next to your deltoids. With your hands on the blocks or floor and your fingertips facing forward, bend your elbows. Squeeze your legs into your arms and your arms into your legs. Wiggle your feet closer together or use your hands to move your feet closer together.
Push into your blocks (or the floor) and widen your upper back, straightening your arms. Simultaneously, engage your pelvic floor. These actions help to lift your feet away from the floor and slide your hips back in the chair while you cross your ankles. Stay here for a few breaths, then to come out, uncross your feet, place them on the ground, and fold forward.
This variation gives you ample support so you can work on gradually moving into the pose and focusing on the alignment without stressing your shoulders and arms.
What you’ll need: two or three blocks, wall space, and an optional wedge.
Benefits of this variation: This variation is more demanding on the shoulders and wrists than the chair version but less than the freestanding form of the pose, making it a nice intermediary point between the two. The wall prevents you from falling back, and the wrists do not need to be extended beyond 90 degrees if using the wedge option.
Setup: Place your blocks, stacked horizontally on their lowest setting, about two inches away from the wall. If using the wedge, place it horizontally about two inches in front of the stacked blocks with its thin edge facing away from the wall. Start with your feet wider than your hips. Stand a few inches in front of the blocks and wedge, facing away from the wall. With your knees bent, fold forward and place your hands on the floor or wedge behind your heels. Then weave your arms under your thighs and place your hands back on the floor or wedge (the heels of your hands will be on the thickest part of the wedge so that your fingers are angled downward). Your elbows will be bent.
Some people find it beneficial to take their hands a little wider, which is perfectly fine. Just be aware that with your hands wider it may be difficult or impossible for you to cross your ankles. In this case place the soles of your feet together or hold a block between them, and perhaps next time readjust to bring your hands closer to see how your hand placement affects the lower body.
Lower your buttocks down to the blocks. Your feet may lift up slightly in the process. Make sure to squeeze your legs into your shoulders and upper arms during this transition. Shift your hips back, slightly tipping the blocks as you lift or wiggle your feet closer together. Cross one ankle in front of the other and hook them together like a lock. Push into the floor or wedge to broaden your upper back and begin to straighten your arms.
(Once you’re comfortable at this stage, you can try lifting your buttocks away from the blocks!)
Notice that there are oppositional forces at work with the foot lock and the upper legs: The feet pull away from each other as the inner thighs suction to the upper arms. As the feet try to “break” the legs apart, squeeze your inner thighs into the sides of your body.
To come out, unlock your ankles, shift your weight forward as you place your feet on the floor, and come into uttanasana (standing forward fold).
By eliminating the biggest challenges of bhujapidasana, we are able to understand the asana within the context of our own bodies. And when you practice these progressions of bhujapidasana, the only pressure you are feeling is the pinching of your legs to your arms!
Photography: Andrea Killam