Arm Actions in Yoga Poses

If you don’t know how to rotate your shoulders in all yoga poses than learn that first by watching my free online yoga video, just click here.

The first thing you have to know about the arms in yoga is how to “Roll Them Out”. You can be in almost any position and figure out what that means very easily, because there are only two ways the shoulders “roll”.

If you roll your shoulders toward each other, even as you read these words, you’ll feel the chest fall back. That’s called rolling the shoulders “IN”, because it’s internal rotation of the upper arm bones.

If you do the opposite, and roll the shoulders away from each other, you’ll see the chest broadens and lifts. That’s called rolling the shoulders “OUT”, again because of the way the arm bones rotate.

In every single yoga pose, your arms will roll the wrong way if you don’t make sure they roll the right way.

The shoulders always want to roll in, because it’s a more natural bracing mechanism. You’re stronger and more stable when the shoulders roll in, but in yoga we’re looking to also be open, so we have to reverse what happens naturally.

When the shoulders roll in, the chest collapses which crowds the heart and lungs, and the shoulderblades lift up towards the neck which we all know is the root of many neck and upper back problems.

So learn well how to roll your shoulders out, and never stop being attentive to that because as soon as the mind goes elsewhere those shoulders will be right back to their bad habits.

Once you’ve firmly established yourself in the correct shoulder rotation, we move on to the forearms, wrists, and hands.

The above free yoga video shows you two options for the forearms and hands.

When you roll the shoulders out, the correct way, it always influences the forearms and hands, making them want to follow in the same direction. This is a great way to work, because rolling the hands and forearms with the shoulders can actually help you get a deeper movement in the shoulder. Try it.

*Stretch your arms out in front of you, lock the elbows
*Stretch through the fingertips, as if you are extending them out
*Roll your shoulders out, you’ll feel the chest broaden and lift.
*See how the forearms and hands also want to roll out

Go ahead and let the hands and forearms roll the same way the shoulders are – outwardly. Then notice how you can increase the movement in the hands and forearms, and directly feel it in the shoulders.

When you work this way, you are emphasizing the effect you get in the shoulders, which is the way to go whenever you have any injury or therapy issue. Whether it’s in the neck, upper back, shoulders, or chest, always start with this approach as it’s considered more therapeutic.

Classically however, we want to learn to move the forearms and hands exactly opposite that of the shoulders. That means that the shoulders roll out, but the forearms and hands roll in.

If we go back to the previous exercise, extend your arms in front of you.

*Lock the elbows
*Stretch through the fingertips, as if you are extending them out
*Roll your shoulders out, you’ll feel the chest broaden and lift.
*See how the forearms and hands also want to roll out

This time, keep the palms of the hands facing the floor. Look closely at your hands, and make sure that the palms of the hands are parallel to the floor, so one side is not higher or lower than the other.

You can feel how the shoulders want to roll the “wrong way”, or “in”, when you have the hands face the floor.

Try rolling the shoulders away from the chest more and, at the same exact time keeping the hands parallel to the floor.

When you do this, you’re rolling the upper arms “out” while you’re rolling the forearms and hands the opposite way, or “in”.

This takes concentration and practice, especially when you keep the elbows absolutely firm and straight. But it is very, very good for the body. From the wrists through the elbows to the shoulders and into the neck, working this way with the arms is quite sophisticated and beneficial.

These movements translate directly into all yoga poses where the arms are straight. Learn to do this in handstand (adho mukha vrksasana), for example, and your pose will be transformed.

Then over time as the intelligence of these classical movements register for you, you’ll be able to translate this work into the poses where the arms are bent, like headstand (salamba sirsasana), forearm balance (pinchamayurasana), and shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana).

Understanding how the basic arm rotations work and what effects they create is key. With this knowledge you can learn to automatically sense and correct the persistent habit of shoulders rolling in.

In doing so, you will not only be giving your spine and shoulders the best therapy you can give them, but you’ll also be supporting your physiology by making space in the chest, rather than collapsing.

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