Yoga inversions and arm balances class | not quite what I expected

Last weekend I participated in my first yoga inversions and arm balances workshop. [Notice the use of the word 'first' here. It implies that there will be a 'second', despite the tenor of this post...]. Although I’ve been practicing yoga for over a year now, I have yet to become comfortable with inversions and am downright terrified of arm balances.

I had NO IDEA what to expect. Knowing myself well enough to recognize that I might back out at the last minute, I publicly announced my intentions on Facebook.

yoga inversions and arm balances

No getting out of it now ;)

Thinking of trying a yoga inversions and arm balances class? Here are 5 things you should know before you go!

1. Expect to feel many different (and possibly intense) emotions. Although yoga inversions and arm balances are energizing, many people are surprised by the range of emotions they experience when first attempting these types of poses. Everything from fear to anxiety to annoyance to frustration to elation to sadness to anger.

I left the workshop feeling particularly fragile and vulnerable and couldn’t even sit down to write this post until yesterday. Five days later, I’ve gained some perspective on why I was feeling that way and plan to repeat this workshop the next time it’s offered, not only to improve my physical practice, but to help me work through some ‘life issues’ that my navel gazing revealed.

2. Expect to spend a significant amount of time warming up. My workshop was two hours in length and I anticipated that we would spend most of that time learning the subtleties of headstand, handstand and crow. Wrong!

Because yoga inversions and arm balances require significant hip, shoulder and back flexibility, we spent the first 40 minutes of the evening performing ‘centering’ poses and sun salutations. In addition to warming up the body, the familiar practice helped to ease anxiety and nervousness about the new experience to come.

3. Expect to work with a partner. Many inversions and arm balance poses are difficult to get into for the first time. While a wall can be a useful target (and back stop) when attempting handstand, it cannot help you lift your hips up and over the midline of your body.

I found ‘partnering up’ to be the most anxiety-provoking part of the workshop; if I’m going to fail at something, I’d prefer to do it quietly, in the corner, on my own, thank you very much. I plan on remembering this feeling next time I ask my group fitness participants to ‘find a partner’ and promise to have an option for those who prefer to go it alone.

4. Expect to have sore wrists the next day. Even though you won’t spend the entire class on your hands, your wrists and forearms will get a serious workout. My wrists continued to be stiff and sore for about 4 days after the workshop, significantly affecting my ability to do pushups and make progress on my Christmas knitting.

That being said, yoga inversions and arm balances will help to strengthen your hands and wrists if you regularly include them in your yoga practice. Try the wrist stretches and strengthening exercises in this post.

5 . Expect to fall. A lot. It’s unlikely that your first attempt at headstand, handstand, crow or side crow will be successful. My instructor had us strategically place bolsters (aka ‘crash pads’) to ensure that we didn’t hurt ourselves falling out of a pose. Don’t underestimate the psychological power of having something soft nearby to land on. I was much more willing to try challenging poses with the bolster in place.

My instructor both started and finished the workshop with the following quote:

yoga inversions and arm balances

During the workshop, I interpreted the saying quite literally. I lost count of the number of times I fell somewhere around 12.

Upon later reflection, I came to see it’s universal applicability, reinforcing my belief that yoga is a metaphor for life.

P.S. Having a hard time visualizing the poses I’m describing? Check out this YouTube video I made a few months back of me, attempting crow!

Have you ever experienced powerful emotions while attempting a yoga inversion?

What’s your favourite yoga pose? Why?

Comments

  1. This sounds amazing Tamara!!! Well, amazing & scary all at the same time!!!! :) I think I read on your first post that they suggest people have some yoga background which I have none although I do a ton of stretching! ;)

    Really eager to hear more! WOW & man, really proud of you if I have the right to even say that!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Remembrance, Rest, Grateful & Thankful!My Profile

  2. Thanks for such a honest post Tamara. Whenever I was in yoga class and the teacher used to say time for inversions I was terrified. Finally I was able to do a head stand against a wall and that was a big breaking point for me! I still am scared but it does get easier – and I’ve just learned to embrace the fun side of it. I’m also not the biggest fan of partner work. I remember my first ever yoga class we had to work with partners – talk about an introduction to yoga!

    PS. I tried your spartacus workout for women this morning! What a great – but killer – workout! Left me feeling tired out but good. Can’t wait to try it again! I am thinking of doing 3 times per week. What would you recommend mixing it up with? I don’t know if incorporating HIIT runs on 2 days would be a good idea?

    • Danielle, I was still terrified when I left :)
      I think that I need to practice on my own, in my own house, where I feel less self-conscious about what I’m doing (and how silly I look!)

      Thanks for the feedback on Spartacus. I love that workout!
      You could definitely do it 3 times per week (maybe twice through each time?). There’s a reasonable amount of interval work in it already. If you’re going to do HIIT work on the alternate days, make sure it’s something different. i.e., running, cycling, rowing rather than more squat jumps and split squat jumps!

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. Ohhh I have not yet tried inversions! I can totally see what you mean by the fear and anxiety that may come along with attempting inversions! I mean, your body has never experienced anything like them before (ever)…and like anything…it’s the fear of the unknown which can and may very well be exciting at the same time! It’s all about how you choose to experience it :)

    Thanks for sharing this :)
    Kierston recently posted..Eating and Exercising On The Road: 8 Tips To Keeping On Track!My Profile

    • Despite being a bit scary, inversions are quite exhilarating when you finally do them! My instructor had us assume child’s pose for a minute or two right after so as not to get dizzy by standing up right away.

  4. Over the past year I’ve come to love and appreciate the practice of yoga. I don’t know how “experienced” that makes me but I would love to try an inversion class.
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted..Staying Motivated and On Track During the Holiday SeasonMy Profile

    • Well, the flyer for my workshop said ‘some experience required’; I assumed that I had enough experience with a year of weekly yoga classes under my belt. Certainly there were all levels at the workshop.
      I think you would really enjoy it Jill!

  5. Any examples or images of inversion poses? As a non-yoga person I am having trouble picturing what you are accomplishing. But I am impressed nevertheless. Hope you can knit again soon
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted..How to Avoid Overeating on ThanksgivingMy Profile

    • Sigh, I did so want to take photos, but the atmosphere at the workshop didn’t really encourage it. Also, it’s hard to take pics while balancing upside down!

      The main poses we worked on were headstand and handstand (you probably can imagine these ones…).

      Crow is an arm balance pose. I’ve added a link to a video of me attempting one a few months ago!

  6. This may possibly be a silly question but….is there a difference in a handstand in yoga vs. crossfit vs. gymnastics, etc?

    When I do crow I wind up falling on my head. But if I practice daily I can get to a pretty decent time. May have to start that up again.

    My favorite yoga pose is probably the simplest one…childs pose. It’s just a great practical stretch that can be used at anytime to relax yourself and your muscles. Great in the morning, before bed, between sets. You get the pic.
    Carli recently posted..CrossFit, Boot Camp, & Circuit Training DefinedMy Profile

    • Carli, I don’t really know! I’ve never done a crossfit or gymnastics one before (or a yoga handstand, either…)

      I love child’s pose too. So relaxing and calming! Sometimes when I’m too ‘wired’ to sleep, I practice that one for a few minutes before climbing into bed. It really quiets the voice inside my head (I use it with my youngest son too, on those days when he’s climbing the walls!)

  7. Wow thanks for sharing your experience! I’ve been looking into inversion workshops and I’m really happy I read this because I wouldn’t have had any idea what to expect. I’m glad you’re going to go again and not let your experience get you down!

    • Caroline, you’re welcome! And I haven’t shared it all yet…inversions bring up all sorts of emotions and often they’re tied to other things that need resolution in my life…

      Definitely be going back. Try, try again!

  8. If this makes you feel any better, I’ve been practicing yoga for 10+ years and I’ve only begun to become comfortable in headstand – like as of last week. Arm stands are my nemesis. I can only comfortably get into crow. There is a LOT of anxiety and fear that bubbles up in these poses, especially inversions. When I started to pay attention, it amazed me how, as soon as I was upside-down, my heart rate spiked and my breathing became shallow. I think that it brings up a lot of emotions for a lot of people and a lot of it is mental.

    I’m glad that you went and I’m glad that you’re going to go again.

    • 10 years! That’s amazing Christine! I hope that someday I can say the same thing. And you’re right, my breathing and heart rate were very abnormal when I was upside down.

      I promise to report after the next workshop!

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