If your current yoga practice does not emphasize the upper body, you can change that by shifting your focus within postures you already practice and by adding arm-strengthening asanas to your routine. In standing poses, concentrate on keeping your arms firm and straight, reaching out expansively. And include plenty of poses that challenge the arms, like Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), and Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose).
You can alternate strategies for practicing these poses: One day, concentrate on holding them as long as possible; another day, move in and out of them repeatedly. A traditional version of the latter strategy is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation). There are a number of variations of this series of poses, but most include Plank, Chaturanga, Downward Dog, and Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose). Twining suggests using Sun Salutations to warm up for your practice and then sprinkling them throughout your asana routine. (For further instruction on the Sun Salutation series, visit www.YogaJournal.com/sun.)
As you gain strength, Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) and Sirsasana (Headstand) also become excellent ways to build even stronger arms and shoulders. (Make sure you learn Headstand from an experienced teacher who can monitor the safety of your neck in the pose.)
Yoga and Cross-Training
"Free-weight training is very complementary to the practice of yoga," Eirk says. Yoga can lengthen the muscles, which in turn gives bodybuilding yogis the potential to lift heavier weights. Conversely, weight lifting helps yogis build the strength needed for challenging postures such as Handstand and more advanced arm balances. Because weight training requires contracting specific, isolated muscle groups, it also increases body awareness. "When you combine yoga with weight training, it gets easier to stay in poses for a longer period of time and focus on what you want to focus on without thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I want to get out of this,'" Eirk says.
Muscles need 24 to 48 hours to recover from any strength-building session, whether you've worked them in the weight room or on the yoga mat. If you tax your arms and shoulders every day, you may end up tearing and injuring them rather than strengthening them. You'll have to use a trial-and- error approach to discover just how much downtime between sessions is optimal for you, but in the beginning, it's a good idea to sequence your workouts so you don't focus on your arms two days in a row.
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