Video: The Contortionist

Eager to master the arm balance? Equinox’s Briohny Smyth shows there’s no limit to what the artfully honed yoga body can do.

Why are we all so terrified of-slash-mesmerized by-slash-obsessed with the yoga arm balance? What separates the student assuming child's pose from the one floating effortlessly (or seemingly so) into a handstand?

The first answer is easy: they're intoxicating. "It's a different type of exhilaration than anything else," says Allison English, an Equinox yoga instructor based in Chicago, "Arm balances are some of the most ancient positions in the yoga system. When the body is balancing on the hands, you actually activate several of the meridians or the nadis that directly relate to the brain. You get these rushes of energy that you just can’t get any other way."

But elevating your practice from standard sun salutations to gravity-defying feats takes dedication. Dabbling in the occasional class means you'll likely hit your plateau at crow pose, since the teacher will most likely move on before you've had a chance to really push yourself. If you commit to a regular schedule, and repeat the same poses, you'll gradually add strength and, yes, air. "I see so many people just pop into yoga classes once in a while, but they never get anywhere — they could never get to the arm balance stage — because they don't do the work. You gotta do the work," says Lashaun Dale, national creative manager of group fitness for Equinox.

And as anyone who's flipped into a handstand for the first time can tell you, when you get there, it's worth it. "If you do the work and show up, then you become this amazing creature with this amazing body and this amazing discipline," says Dale, "People are now starting to become more interested in the esoteric part of yoga and understanding that they can’t get to the higher level without the basics. It’s about commitment. When you commit, you can have that kind of magic on the mat."

Equinox Yoga Instructor Briohny Smyth has been dedicated to yoga for over 15 years. We spent a morning with her at the Mondrian Hotel in Soho, where she took the athleticism, artistry and sensuality of arm balancing to a new level with a flow from her personal practice. Watch her make the magic happen in the video above.

Video by Project Dstllry

Filed Under: Mind/Body | Yoga