Sam is a new yoga teacher. She comes to one of my advanced yoga classes each week. She likes to push her limits but wants to do so in a safe way. She wants to have strength through range of motion and wants to maintain her flexibility as she builds strength. She has noticed that as she builds upper body strength she has started to decrease upper body range of motion. She and I have worked together on a number of short sequences that she has plugged into her practice but here is a bit of one of them. Try it and let me know what you notice in your body.
Parsva Tadasana or side reach mountain pose has a number of variations. With the same side (as you reach toward) arm at the side you can recruit that side of the body to help create more length on the opposite side. For example, if you reach to the right, using the right side to draw you further to the right helps create more length on the left. Stand with the feet at hip width distance, inhale both arms overhead, exhale to reach to one side and lower that side arm to the side, actively reach the lowered fingers toward the earth as the lifted arm also reaches away from the body. Maintain this effort for three deep breaths. Inhale to rise to midline and exhale to the opposite side.
Katichakrasana or rotation of the waist pose. Inhale both arms overhead, exhale to draw one arm in front of the body and the opposite arm behind. Keep the lower body facing front as the upper body rotates. Draw the gaze as far over the arm behind the body as feels beneficial. Maintain for three deep breaths. Inhale both arms over head and exhale to the opposite side.
This is an Ardha Uttanasana/Katichakrasana variation. To keep this variation focused on the upper back keep both knees on the same plane. If knees need to bend, bend them! But bend them to the same degree. The moment one knee is bent deeper than the other this pose travels to the low back and we are trying to increase range of motion above the lumbosacral junction. Inhale both arms overhead, exhale to foward fold, inhale to lengthen halfway (use blocks to support a long spine), keeping one hand rooted on the block draw the opposite arm to the sky. You can keep your gaze on the earth, on the horizon, or draw your eyes to the lifted palm. Notice what feels most supportive and take three deep breaths. Exhale to lower completely to forward fold, inhale to rise, exhale hands to heart center and repeat on the opposite side.
REPEAT THESE THREE POSES THREE TIMES BEFORE PROCEEDING.
Uttana Shisosasana or puppy pose increases upper back extension and opens the front of the body. This variation also addresses the triceps (a key muscle in chaturanga dandasana). For Samantha, someone who is specifically focusing on building upper body strength, this pose efficiently addresses multiple muscle groups. The nature of this pose is deep, keep an eye on any temptation to settle into a depth of intensity that doesn’t feel beneficial. If you know your upper back, chest or triceps are particularly tight, place your elbows on blocks. The elevation will give you the support you need to get a little deeper without crushing your forehead into the floor. Start in tabletop top pose (on all fours), keeping your hips over the knees begin to walk your arms away (image one), once the arms are extended, draw the palms of the hands together, working to point the fingers to the sky and lower the forehead toward the earth. If the chest easily reaches the earth, lift the forehead and place chin on earth. If you use blocks, walk the arms away to gauge where the blocks should be, place them under the elbows, bring palms together and lower heart toward the earth to a depth that feels sustainable. Take three to five deep breaths here, feel into what is most beneficial for you in the moment. Shift into child’s pose for the same number of breaths to counter this pose. You can repeat as many times as feels beneficial. For your first round try it no more than three times and notice how your body feels in the following days. As you become more familiar with how your body reacts to this posture you can make wise decisions about how you use it. As always, notice any temptation to do more than is truly beneficial for your body and let me know how you feel after you try it!