Everything I Needed to Know about Arm Balances…I Learned in Physics

Yoga can involve a surprising—and sometimes distressing—amount of math, whether it’s turning the back heel inwards 45 degrees in the Warrior I, or, placing the crown of the head and the hands on the points of an equilateral triangle in the Tripod Headstand.

Where students begin breaking out into a cold sweat, however, is when I start talking about…physics.

What many practitioners don’t realize is that there’s a LOT of applied physics in yoga. For example:

THE OBSERVER EFFECT

As defined in physics:
The mere fact of observing a phenomenon necessarily changes the phenomenon.

As applied in yoga:
The mere fact of having your photo taken in the Crow Pose improves your performance of the Crow Pose.

NEWTON’S UNIVERSAL LAW OF GRAVITY

As defined in physics:
The closer objects are, the stronger the gravity between them.

As applied in yoga:
The closer your bum is to the floor in the Crow Pose, the harder it is to lift off.

THE PAULI EXCLUSION PRINCIPLE

As defined in physics:
The particles of ordinary matter cannot be at the same place at the same time with the same energy.

As applied in yoga:
You are not and will never be the annoying prodigy to your right who learned how to do the Crow Pose in the span of time it took her to say “You mean lift both of my feet up like this???”

 

Why I’m bringing this up is because in all the years I’ve taught arm balances, the single biggest reason why students fail to perform an arm balancing pose is an inadequate appreciation of physics.

Let me explain:

Our body’s center of mass is located in the area of our hips (a fact that women tend to singularly bemoan). This means that in the vast majority of arm balances, we begin the pose with our weight located predominantly behind our hands.

Now, this is where the physics comes in. Just like a pair of weighing scales, we won’t find balance unless the weight behind our hands is offset by the weight ahead of our hands.

In practical terms, this means that after we’ve perched our knees on the backs of our upper arms in, say, the Crow Pose, we need to shift our weight forward. Like waaay forward.

How far forward do I mean by waaay forward? Simply this: You have to shift your weight forward until you hit the point where your forearms are perpendicular to the ground (there’s the math again)—a point which usually corresponds with the moment when your terror hits its peak.

Confronting that terror is precisely why arm balances are simple but NOT easy. The straightforward instruction to move forward involves a willingness to literally fall flat on our face—an event that unites a dual threat to both our physical self and our psychological self.

Unfortunately, there’s no other way to advance in this category of yogasana. Hard work and brute force simply can’t override the laws of the universe. As I often tell my students:

“No amount of strength is going to help you in your arm balances if you aren’t willing to move forward. Hard work and brute force might help you lever yourself into the pose for a few giddy seconds, but they won’t help you stay in the pose.”

(Interestingly, if you replace the idea of getting into arm balances in the previous paragraph with the idea of getting out of any situation in your life right now where you’re feeling stuck, the logic still works. Yoga, like a box of chocolates, is a multi-purpose metaphor.)

On the other hand, if you’re willing to face the fear, take the risk and, yes, fall flat on your face, you will eventually discover the sheer exhilaration of overcoming your limits and, well, taking flight.

And I don’t just mean in arm balances.

Wishing you many moments of soaring freedom,
Eileen

About White Space Wellness

White Space Wellness empowers individuals in elevating their quality and experience of life and in becoming their highest expressions through yoga, mindfulness and nutrition.

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