All yoga postures that build strength are both a test of physical as well as mental and emotional endurance. The first true arm balance of the Ashtanga Yoga method is called Bujapidasana and is literally translated as Arm Pressure Posture. You will need to stay present at every step of the journey through this posture in order to learn the spiritual lesson of the posture. When I was a novice to the Ashtanga Yoga method I remember thinking how cool it would be to balance on arms and have the full weight of my body supported in mid-air. Bujapidasana in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series had this magical allure of being both interesting looking and a floating arm balance. When I tried I fell backwards, sideways, toppled over on my head and collapsed at nearly every twist and turn of this intense movement. When I watched someone perform the posture fluidly from start to finish it looked like magic to me.
Ashtanga Yoga is magical but not because it uses potions or pixie dust to get your body and mind to go places where it would otherwise not. It is magical because with the sheer power of your own awareness you shift the fabric of your consciousness to new heightened levels of being. Your mental and physical bodies then follow. The spiritual lesson at the heart of this arm balance is about never giving up. There are numerous moments throughout the posture where your body will want to fall backwards, forwards, downwards and just plan quit and give up. There are excruciating moments where the only thought in your mind is how tired you are. There are emotional moments when you doubt your strength and resolve. By touching these difficult places you also touch your limitations. When you brush again the limits of your known consciousness you also get very close to your spirit. As you push your boundaries a little bit of spirit seeps in and give you strength where you would not otherwise have. It is the same small voice that dares to think it possible against a mountain of disbelief. It is the lion heart of faith that comes in at the last possible to moment to save you from despair. The lesson of Bujapidasana is that you cannot stop when you are tired, when you doubt, when you feel like quitting or when you want it to be over. You stop when you are done. Practically speaking what that means is that you are not “done” with the posture until you jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana
Placed at the pinnacle of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series this posture demands physical strength, a certain degree of openness in the hips and steady endurance on every level. If you try it out in the afternoon outside of the practice you will probably notice that you have a little more mental and physical energy to give to the posture. Use that to explore the technical aspects of the movement and break every step of the way down in your own analytical terms so that it makes sense to you. Then when you try Bujapidasana again within the context of your practice some memory of the technique will be present in your body. You will need to keep your mind conscious and aware of every step of the posture, training both the body and mind to fully present of the journey. You also need a strong shoulder girdle to perform this posture as well as coordinated integration of the deep bandha work within the interior space of the pelvis. Both of these foundational elements of strength can take years to build. The process of acquiring these tools can also be a very emotional experience that triggers deeply seeded fears, anxieties or other emotional traumas. If you want to build the strength that it takes to perform Bujapidasana you have to be brave enough to commit to the full exploration of what the posture brings up.
If you are a beginner first attempting the posture it might be best to try the more simple modification where you begin by jumping the feet to the floor on the outside of your arms. Then take a squatting position and step on your hands while bringing the shoulders fully forward around your arms. Once you step on your hands try to keep the full hand and wrist in contact with the ground. Next bend your arms slightly and begin to allow the thighs to rest on the shelf of the upper arms. Engage the bandhas to support the pelvis and keep it lifted and avoid the tendency to fall backwards onto the floor. Cross your feet and bring them through the arms by leaning the weight of your body forward while pressing the arms and placing the head on the ground. After five breaths drag or lift your feet forward while pressing the arms, lifting the chest and supporting the pelvis from falling backwards. To fully exit the posture bring one foot around while bending the arms and leaning even more forward into the solid foundation of your arms. Bring the second foot around and finally bend the arms and press into the floor to jump all the way into Chaturanga Dandasana. If you are slightly more advanced try to jump directly into the posture, cross your feet while floating in the air, bend arms to bring the feet through the arms and touch the chin. To jump back from the more advanced version try to keep the feet off the ground throughout the whole transition and bring both feet back into full Bakasana position before you jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana. Only then will you be “done” and ready for Supta Kurmasana which comes next!