Asanas for Upper-Body Strength

The arm balancing postures unite strength, flexibility and grace. Tanvi Mehra shows how to achieve the perfect balance in eka pada koundinyasana.

I practise yoga for peace of mind, for grounding and to work on my breath. We all practise for different reasons, but yoga practitioners tend to be people who want to work on their body’s mobility and flexibility. Yoga isn’t just about stretching and being flexible, it requires strength as well. Many students have a misconception that yoga has nothing to do with building or training your body’s strength. This isn’t true. 

In all my years of practising yoga, I observed that all the teachers that I admire are extremely strong and graceful as they manoeuvre their bodies into different shapes — from the ground-based postures to reaching for the sky in inversions. I still wonder if I can ever be able to do all of it. I also wanted to make my students realise and experience that yoga can be as much of a workout as a gym or pilates routine. That yoga even offers mental and spiritual benefits is a bonus. 

In order to inspire my students, I had to believe in myself, and that I was capable of doing the asanas I aspired to do. Some of these require tremendous upper body strength. I continue to work on my foundation and over time, I’ve seen my body growing stronger and slowly, the poses that seemed like a distant dream became a reality. 

One such asana is eka pada koundinyasana. I remember the struggle to rest the weight of my body on my arms. I slipped, fell and slumped but over the years, I learned how to activate the mula bandha, use my drishti, and engage my legs, arm and core. I then synchronised all this with ujjayi breathing and finally, I felt myself float in a perfectly balanced eka pada koundinyasana.

This posture made me believe that nothing is impossible, it made me experience what it means to use the mula bandha and to experience lightness in the body when we work from the epicentre of the core. It taught me to combine mobility and strength, and brought calmness to my mind. 

When I demonstrate advanced poses to my students and they tell me they can’t do it, it reminds me of how I used to feel and I assure them that they can achieve the pose, but they must be dedicated and never give up. When new students come to my class and say they joined yoga only to gain flexibility, but use other forms of exercise for strength, I don’t argue. I silently make them practise sequences, vinyasas and poses that need strength. Soon they realise on their own that this practice needs as much strength as any other form of exercise.

Eka pada koundinyasana made me believe that I can grow stronger physically and mentally. It’s my mission to make my students feel the same way. I have deconstructed the pose below so you can try practising, but remember asanas go beyond the physical as well and allow you to get to know the real you. Also, the instructions below are for students who already practise the pose and need guidance. If you’re trying for the first time, please practise under the guidance of a qualified and experienced teacher.

Arm Balancing For Upper-Body Strength

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Eka Pada Koundinyasana

Inhaling, start with coming on to your toe mounds, raise your heels off the floor, keep your spine straight while squeezing your inner thighs together and activating the core and pelvic floor muscles.

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Exhaling, twist your torso to the left while engaging your core and bend your elbows. Fix your gaze beyond the tip of your nose towards the floor.

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Inhaling, tilt your weight forward coming onto the tips of your toes to get your elbows above your wrists. Get the outer hip of the left leg to gently lock into your armpits or triceps. Take your shoulders forward, protracting (separating) the shoulder blades and round your upper back as you get ready for take off.

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Exhaling, engage the pelvic floor muscles (mula bandha) and take flight squeezing your thighs together and keep your toes pointed. Maintain the torso twist and evenly distribute the weight of your body onto both shoulders, while making sure not to slump.

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Continue to fix your gaze forward, squeezing your thighs. Inhale and as you exhale, start to straighten your left leg and engage your hamstring. Pointing your toes will help you to maintain the leg extension.

Asana for Upper Body Strength

Inhale again and as you exhale, slowly extend your right leg backwards towards the sky without dropping into your shoulder girdle. Keep the toes of both feet pointed to gain length and balance. To exit, slowly squeeze your legs and bring them back together with bent knees. Then descend to the start position. Repeat all six steps on the other side.

Tanvi Mehra is a hatha vinyasa teacher based in Mumbai. For her teaching schedules visit, Tangerine Arts Studio

March 5, 2020
Photos Simon Meier

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