Build your strength for Forearm Balance.

Yoga involves a lot more than sitting in lotus position and breathing. People who want yoga to be a workout flock to power yoga classes where a hard-core teacher will make them sweat. But duplicating that experience at home takes dedication and discipline. To bolster your commitment, turn your phone off, set a timer and pick some music that inspires you. One of the liberating things about practicing at home is you can ditch the New Age music and listen to rock or whatever else makes you want to move.

Practicing at Home

It’s best to take some classes with a qualified teacher before starting a home practice. Once you feel like you’re ready to do yoga at home, find a quiet, uncluttered spot in your house. For a hard-core practice, it's especially important to clear your space of anything that will cut or bruise you if you fall out of a difficult pose. You need space enough for your yoga mat, plus a little extra room around it. Try to pick a place where you'll have access to an unobstructed wall to use for practicing arm balances. Having yoga props, such as a sticky mat and a foam block, will be helpful.

Defining Hard Core

A hard-core practice means different things to different people. For many, particularly women, arm balances are especially difficult because they require so much upper-body strength. Some yoga students, especially guys, find deep stretches of the hips, hamstrings and groin excruciating. "To me, really hard-core yoga comes from the strength of sustaining a static posture," said Jenny Gallagher, yoga instructor and author of "Mind Over Mat." You have to define which poses feel hardcore and which come easily.

Arm Balances

Arm balances look impressive. They require developed arm muscles, strong abs and balance. If you’re a skater, surfer, snowboarder or mountain biker, your balance is probably good already. “I find guys usually have more upper-body strength and can shine in Crow pose and other arm balances,” says Ron Johnson, a yoga teacher in Portland, Oregon. He recommends handstands and forearm stands as well.

If you’re new to handstand, it’s definitely a good idea to practice at the wall. Place your fingertips about six inches from the wall and come into Downward Facing Dog. Using your abs, walk your feet in a little way. Most people have a dominant leg. Find yours and kick it up, letting the other leg follow. Again, think abs more than brute force. You can leave the legs on the wall, or practice bringing one leg at a time away from the wall and finding your balance.

Forearm stand is very similar to handstand, except your forearms are on the floor, parallel to each other. This takes both shoulder strength and shoulder openness. If and when you can easily get up into a forearm stand, try setting up about 12 inches from the wall and start arching your back and dropping the feet toward the head for Scorpion pose.

Crow is more accessible than the handstand or forearm stand. Squat down, placing your hands shoulder distance apart. From that crouched position, attempt to bring your knees onto the backs of your arms and bring your feet together in the air. You’ll have to carefully adjust the position of your head and your hips to stay balanced.

Plank Poses

Since plank poses strengthen the core, they have a yoga/gym crossover appeal. In yoga, plank is done like the beginning of a pushup, with hands just shoulder distance apart. If you’re strong, this will probably be easy. You can make it more challenging by bringing one knee towards your opposite elbow and using your abdominal strength to hold it there until you get tired.

Vinyasa, or flowing from pose to pose, is a common approach to yoga. From plank, you can lower yourself to low plank, also known as chaturanga dandasana. This is like lowering yourself into a pushup with the upper arms tight against the body, elbows pointing back so you feel it in the triceps. “Don’t get down too low,” warns Gallagher, adding that people often think the lower they go, the more hardcore they are. The goal is for your triceps to do the work, not your shoulder rotators. Go too low and you risk rotator cuff injuries. “And don’t let your belly sink so that it pinches your low back,” Gallagher says.

Plank can also be done from the forearms, which requires more ab and shoulder strength. You can also do side plank either with a straight arm or with the elbow down. If you do it from the elbow, it works your obliques and your lower back.

Slow Vinyasa

If you like flowing from pose to pose, Gallagher suggests making it tougher by slowing the flow. Spend five to 10 deep breaths in each pose before moving on to the next, and you’ll feel those muscles burn. Gallagher recommends starting in Warrior I, then opening out to Warrior II. From there, move into Extended Side Angle and then balance in Half Moon.

Release back to Warrior II, keeping your core engaged so you don’t lose your balance. Pivot on the ball of the back foot so you’re facing forward in a lunge. Bring the hands down and step the front foot back to plank. Hold there for five breaths, then take it to side plank, back through regular plank, lower to chaturanga and push back up through plank to Downward Facing Dog. Then do all that on the other side.

References & Resources

  • Ron Johnson; Yoga Teacher; Portland, Oregon
  • Jenny Gallagher; Yoga Teacher and Author of "Mind Over Mat"; Sarasota, Florida
  • Light on Yoga; B.K.S. Iyengar