It’s only natural, I guess, that when you start blogging about yoga, your friends are going to ask for your advice, even when you’re on vacation. Luckily for me, I love helping my friends and truly enjoy giving them short private lessons, and seeing their eyes light up when they realize there are some easy yoga solutions to their problems in one of my ideas of FUN.
This time my friend Carol asked me about her right shoulder and wrist, the ones she over-uses when she spends so much time in front of the computer moving her mouse around. She was under the impression that to protect her shoulder and wrist she should not use them very much, even when she was doing yoga. To baby them, in other words. I assured her that, to the contrary, to protect her shoulder and wrist she should be both strengthening and stretching her shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands. Then I gave her a quick private lesson to show her some easy poses she could do on a regular basis.
For her wrists, I showed her the wrist flossing sequence (see Featured Sequence: Wrist Flossing) that is so helpful for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome and other wrists problems. For stretching her shoulders, I showed her a passive backbend over a blanket roll, with her arms overhead and straight, using a strap around her upper arms to make it easier to stay in the pose for around three minutes. I also taught her the doorknob version of Upward Plank pose (Purvottanasana) because she could easily do this in her work place and it’s a nice counter-pose to sitting hunched in front of a computer (see Upward Plank variations). Of course there are many other shoulder stretches, many of which we’ve been covering in our office yoga series (Arm Circles, Eagle pose Arms, Cow-Face pose Arms, etc.).
But what about building upper body strength? I assured her that, no, she didn’t have to do handstands or arm balances, and there were many easy yoga poses that help build upper body strength. Then I quickly ran through a lot of suggestions for her that I thought I share with you today. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll be able to explore some of these poses in greater depth.
Any pose where you put weight on your arms builds upper body strength, including Cat pose, Downward-Facing Dog, Upward-Facing Dog, Plank pose, Sideways Plank pose (Vasithasana), Upward Plank pose (Purvottanasana), and so on. If you are worried about putting weight on your wrists, you can use a wedge to change the angle of your wrists, do some of the poses with your forearms on the floor instead of just your hands (for example Downward-Facing Dog with forearms on the floor). You can even do Upward Plank pose standing a few feet away from the wall, with one hand on the wall, your outside leg in Tree pose, and your second out to the side or overhead (I swear, I will take a photo of this one of these days). One of my favorite upper body strengtheners, which I learned from yoga teacher Julie Gudmestad, is to move back and forth, several times, between Downward-Facing Dog and Plank pose.
Also, any pose where you hold your arms up or out to the side builds upper body strength, including Warrior 1, 2, and 3, Tree pose, Triangle pose, Extended Side Angle pose, Half Moon pose, and so on. Do you doubt me? Try keeping your arms in position instead of releasing them as you change from the first side to the second side of Warrior 2 (or any other pose). I bet you’ll find it’s harder than you expected.
There are so many possibilities that I once taught an entire workshop on the subject. Here is the mini practice I sent those students home with:
1. Cat pose
2. Downward-Facing Dog pose
3. Standing Forward Bend
4. Two Sun Salutations with Plank instead of Chaturanga
5. Sideways Plank pose (Vashithasana)
6. Upward Plank pose (Purvottanasana)
7. Child's pose
I hope this inspires you to incorporate some upper body strengthening into your home practice!