Strong Armed

By Nora Isaacs, Sequence by Daren Friesen  |  

Whether you spend your days typing, driving, playing guitar, or adjusting your yoga students, repeated motions can cause tightness, strain, and repetitive stress injury. Because so many daily activities involve the arms, shoulders, and wrists, says Daren Friesen, director and founder of Chicago’s Moksha Yoga Center, you’d be wise to build strength and flexibility in these often used areas. Even if you don’t suffer from repetitive stress, a structurally stable upper body will prepare you for more-advanced arm balances and inversions.

Friesen designed a sequence to strengthen the upper body, while opening up the nadis (energetic channels) in the arms that, when blocked, can cause discomfort. "When energy flows freely through the channels, there is an absence of pain and strain," he says.

Friesen recommends blending sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease) while doing the poses. If you feel unstable or sense that you are overworking, bring your attention to your breath, gaze, and spine. "Feel grounded and connected to the earth," he says, "while at the same time feeling long and tall through your spine to create a free flow of energy through your central channel."

Before You Begin

SIT Start with a 5-minute seated meditation focusing on your breath.

CHANTChant Om three times, focusing on the belly, chest, and third eye, respectively.

BREATHEDo three rounds of Viloma Pranayama I: Inhale in three parts, pausing at the belly, chest, and third eye. Pause for one count as you hold the breath, then exhale.

MOVETake five rounds of Sun Salutation A and three rounds of Sun Salutation B. Do standing poses like Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), and Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend).

1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) In Downward-Facing Dog set your hands shoulder-width apart, aligning the hands so that the middle fingers are straight and parallel to each other. Press down on the root of the forefinger, thumb, and inner heel of each hand. Move the weight of the pose back into your legs while contracting the quadriceps and pressing the heels more back than down. Focus your gaze at a spot between your shins and feel simultaneously grounded and light.

2. Wrist Opener, front side Lower your knees to the mat and rotate your hands outward all the way until the fingers point toward the knees. Take a deep breath and lean your hips back toward your heels, but keep your palms on the floor. Feel how the warm sensation brings awareness to the inner arms. If you like, play with the pose by placing the hands closer together.

3. Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose), variation Sit on your shins in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), then place the top of your head on the mat in front of your knees. Interlace your fingers together behind your back, roll the shoulders down the back, away from the ears, then lift your arms over your head. Breathe deeply, then reverse the clasp of your hands and stay here for 5 more breaths.

4. Garudasana, (Eagle Pose) variation Sit on your shins and open your arms wide. Cross one over the other, bend the elbows, and press the palms together. Lift your arms up and press the hands forward to create a deep stretch at the junction of the shoulders and upper torso. Focus on your exhalation, releasing tension. When you’re ready, reverse the wrap of your arms and repeat on the other side.

5. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) Swivel your hips to one side and cross one leg over the other. Remember this rule: Whichever leg is over, place the same side arm under. Reach the bottom arm behind you and bend the elbow so your forearm rests along your spine. Reach the top arm up, centering the elbow over the armpit, and bend the elbow so that your hands meet. If your hands don’t touch, use a strap. Remember to breathe smoothly and evenly. After 5 breaths, release your arms, recross your legs, and do the other side.

6. Wrist Opener, back side Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you. Reach your arms behind your back and place your palms on the floor, thumbs touching and fingers pointing toward the hips. For tight or bulky shoulders, move the hands farther apart. Simultaneously lift your chest and bend your elbows, making the exhalation longer than the inhalation. Move the hands a bit wider and reverse the position by turning them out and pressing the pinkies together. Again, lift your chest and tuck your chin as you breathe deeply and freely.

7. Marichyasana I (Marichi’s Twist), variation Bend your left knee and place your foot flat on the floor in front of the sitting bone. Lean forward as far as you can, wrap your left arm in front of and around your left knee, and grab your right wrist (remember this: the wrapper is the grabber). Press down through both sitting bones, lift the sternum, and draw the navel to the spine as you twist to the left. Repeat on the other side.

8. Shoulder Opener This position internally rotates your arms and stretches your shoulders and wrists. While sitting, bend your knees and place your feet on the floor, wider than hip distance apart. Press each elbow against the inside of its respective knee. From there, bend both elbows and fold your forearms toward your torso. Press the elbows against your knees, and press the back of your hands against the sides of your body. Slide the hands up to increase the challenge or down to reduce it. To increase the stretch, squeeze your knees gently together and breathe to release tension.

9. Setu Bandha Sarvagasana (Bridge Pose) Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet on the ground hip-width apart. Raise your arms above your head, and rotate them so that your palms are flat on the floor with the pinkies on the inside, thumbs on the outside. Lift your hips into Bridge Pose. Quietly observe the deep flow of energy and blood through the arms and shoulders.

10. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) Roll up into a seated cross-legged position. Cross one wrist over the other, hands pointing down, then interlace the -fingers. Take a deep breath and roll the hands in toward you, then up and away from your torso, as you try to straighten your arms. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears. Go as deep as you can without straining the arms or the breath. Release, switch the grip, then repeat.

After You Finish

INVERT Do Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Halasana (Plow Pose), and Matsyasana Matsyasana (Fish Pose).

BREATHE Do three rounds of Viloma Pranayama II: Exhale in three parts, pausing at the third eye, chest, and belly. Pause for one count. Inhale.

REST Take Savasana (Corpse Pose) for 10 minutes.

MEDITATE Sit cross-legged and take Jnana Mudra (Wisdom Seal): Touch your first finger, representing the soul, to the thumb, representing the Divine. Meditate on the light of your inner essence.