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Cyndi Lee’s reply:
How wonderful that you are teaching yoga to high school kids! One good exercise for working with the boys’ tight shoulders, arms, and chest is Downward Facing Dog Pose with the forearms on the ground instead of the hands. They can practice this with their legs bent, which will enable them to deepen their groins and open the lower back and sacral area at the same time. Then they can try to slowly lengthen their legs without pressing forward in the shoulders.
Another great exercise is quite intense, so they will probably love it! My students have dubbed it “Ninja Death.” Place the mat at the wall. Face away from the wall. Bend the right knee on the mat and place the right shin against the wall. If this is painful on the knee, roll up the end of the mat or place a folded blanket underneath. The left foot will be on the floor and the left leg in a deep lunge. Cross the forearms over the left thigh and breathe. Then slowly begin to move the hips back against the wall. This is an intense stretch for the quadriceps and as well as the psoas muscle.
To open the chest, have the students roll up their mats and lie down with the mat under the bottom edge of the shoulder blades. Take the arms over head, and hold onto opposite elbows. The weight of the elbows will help open up the triceps and latisimus dorsi. The chest will open from the lift of the rolled up mat. Be sure that they allow the full body weight to sink down onto the roll rather than arching up away from it.
Another method for learning how to open the chest is to have them bend the top arm and place it behind their head in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle). This will help them learn how to feel the shoulder blades flattening on the back, which opens the chest.
A final word about teenagers and yoga: It will be easier to bring them to stillness if you begin the class at a fairly vigorous, heat-building pace. Pattabhi Jois designed the Ashtanga Vinyasa system for teenage boys, and some say thats the reason you jump the feet apart or together throughout the whole standing series.
Cyndi Lee is the founder of OM yoga center in New York City. She is a
longtime practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. Cyndi is the author of OM Yoga: A Guide to Daily Practice(Chronicle Books) and the upcoming Yoga Body, Buddha Mind (Riverhead Books). For more information, visit www.omyoga.com.