Animal Farm Yoga: when we turned zoo animals as we get locked down - Part 1: Arm Balances

The Covid-19 Crisis is a big bummer, especially as this is during my one-year MBA. One thing that keeps me sane was exercising at home or running around the small town of Fontainebleau. Yoga is no doubt one of my go-to exercises during this lock-down. Earlier in the isolation, I was tagged by my friend in Bangkok on a 10-day inversion challenge. It's funny what boredom does to us - I have never really thought about joining any of these challenges before, but at this point, anything that gives me short-term purpose just sounds so much more attractive. I ended up finishing the entire challenge - not missing any single day. By the end of the challenge, I ended up feeling a bit lonely and lack of any further motivation. I asked my friend, and I ended up hosting my own challenge for a few of my friends - the Lockdown Farm Challenge.

Yoga poses are often inspired by animals, natures, and folklores. A lot of animal poses are arm balances, which are my forte when it comes to the family of poses. Having done with the challenge already, I guess it would be a good time to write up a quick note on a collection of cool animal poses for anyone wanting to try this in the future.

1. Grasshopper and dragonfly arm balance (Maksikanagasana)

These two arm balances are ones of my favorite poses because it looks complex (and it actually is quite complex). It was introduced to me by my teacher - Briohny Smyth (IG: @yogawithbriohny), and I couldn't even do it for the longest time. However, by some miracles, I managed to get into the pose during a teacher training with the very same teacher. After that, my consistency with the pose has been improving from consistent practices every once in a while.

Prerequisite: Open hip (external rotation) - ability to step on to your upper arms in the pose, strong chaturanga (triceps), strong quadriceps (for dragonfly pose)

How to get into the pose?: there are many ways to get into this pose, but the easiest from my experience is to:

1. Start with figure-4 chair pose (chair pose on one leg with another ankle on top of the standing thigh).

2. Twist to the side of the standing leg (if you stand on right leg, twist to the right)

3. Place opposite hand (Standing on right, then left hand) on the floor, make sure the lifted foot is high on the upper arm - if not sit lower

4. Place another hand on the floor, step the lifted foot on upper arm push the standing leg to the opposite side (Grasshopper) or swing back (harder - Dragonfly)

2. Peacock Pose (Mayurasana)

If there is any penultimate arm balance in terms of strength, this is probably it. The pose requires a delicate balance between the front and back body due to longer levers. The ultimate version of this pose is to have the front and back body completely parallel to ground which is easier said than done for me haha.

An easier variation of this pose is Padma Mayurasana (below) where your legs are locked in Padmasana (lotus pose), so you are required less balancing act.

Prerequisite: Very strong chaturanga (half push up), wrist mobility and strength (you are loading a lot of weight on your wrist), strong core (as with any arm balance)

How to get into the pose?

1. Start from kneeling down

2. Place hands on the floor in any arms position that is easiest for you to bear entire body weight - for me the easiest is as in the photo with fingers pointed to the side

3. Lean the weight forward to the point that your legs are lifted off the ground and find balance

The key to this pose is to lean until you are lifted - NOT jumping!

3. One-legged crow (Eka Pada Kakasana)

The pose is a very fun transition pose for a lot of strong power vinyasa teachers (e.g., Patrick Beach). However, it is not as easy as it seems for me (for I have heavy and fat legs). The simple usual transitions are for example:

1. Chair pose ==> Crow pose ==> One legged crow ==> Vinyasa

2. Low lunge ==> One legged crow ==> Vinysasa

Pre-requisite: strong foundation in crow pose (very stable one), strong quad to extend the leg, good proprioception to balance when one leg is stretched back

How to get into the pose: Again many entries, what I found easiest is

1. Start from crow pose (full version with knees on top of upper arms)

2. Slowly stretch one leg back while leaning forward more - you may end up leaning closer to the floor than you normally do for normal crow

3. Lift the stretched leg up using quadriceps' strength

4. Flying Pigeon (Eka Pada Galavasana)

Same same but different. This is how I describe one-legged crow and flying pigeon. However, ended up finding this pose more difficult to get right than the crow-counterpart because of the bottom leg.

Prerequisite: Open hip (external rotation) - similar starting point to grasshopper arm balance, strong half push-up foundation

How to get into the pose?: there are many ways to get into this pose, but the easiest from my experience is to:

1. Start with figure-4 chair pose (chair pose on one leg with another ankle on top of the standing thigh).

2. Forward bend on the chair pose and lean the bent leg on the upper arms

3. Bend the arms, lean forward and lift the standing leg off the floor - option to left with the knees bent and straighten it later

4. Optional - if you want to lift the back leg high, the trick is to use the bent leg to push the body away from the arms to lift the hip up

5. Crane pose (Bakasana)

I personally have problems with straight arm balance because I have grown to rely on my bent arms which uses more triceps than wrists, forearms, and core. I have also learned through practicing this pose that even a slight bend in the elbow can make such a big difference in how you feel in the pose.

Prerequisite: Strong core, wrist mobility (you may need to plange a bit), decent level of forward bending

How to get into the pose?:

1. From chair or low squat, put your hands on the floor

2. Keep knees to upper arms, lean forward shoulder over wrist but arms straight

3. Lift one leg up, balance, and then another leg follow

4. To keep in the pose, breathe and continue keeping knees to butts!

6. Flying Lizard Pose (Utthan Pristhasana variation)

Once again - same same but different. I have only just tried this pose during this challenge, yet, knowing that I could do the eight angle pose as well as the grasshopper arm balance, I am quite certain that I can do it! And man, I'm glad I did!

Prerequisite: Open hip, strong hamstring (hamstring bend the knee), strong crow / chaturanga (half push-up) position

How to get into the pose?:

1. Start from the normal lizard pose (runner's lunge with hands on the floor)

2. Step the front leg outside of the arms (to the side or a little forward)

3. Bend the front knee to lock over the upper arm

4. Lean forward, lift the back leg of the floor - option to keep the leg straight or bend the knee

There are two other poses that I have done during this challenge: Firefly pose (Titiabasana) and Elephant Trunk Pose (Eka Hasta Bhujasana). These two are the two that I still have not fully crack yet (but I'm happy that I did it!).

The Part 2 will be on other poses from inversion, forward bend, and back bend!

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