Q: My arms are short and I've had a shoulder injury, so I struggle with arm-binding poses. How can I open my shoulders and ease the pain that comes with trying to bind? —Ann Whitham, Jackson, Wyoming
Read Desiree Rumbaugh's reply:
Fortunately, there are some perfect yoga poses to help you loosen your shoulders in preparation for arm-binding poses:
PECTORAL STRETCH AT WALL (pictured)
Stand sideways to a wall and extend your arm to the side. Keeping your elbow at shoulder height, bend your elbow so your forearm is raised. Press your forearm into the wall. Lengthen both sides of your body from the pelvis to the shoulder. Maintaining this, take the head of your arm bone deeper into your shoulder socket, then toward the back plane of your body, bringing your shoulder blade onto your back. Keeping firm contact with the wall, breathe deeply as you turn your body away from the wall. Be sure to keep your abdominal muscles strong by moving your tailbone down, lifting the sternum, and extending through your neck and head. (Try not to drop your head forward or you'll lose your core strength and the stretch will lose its effectiveness.) Repeat twice on each side.
PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA with clasped hands (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)
Standing with your legs 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart and your feet facing forward and parallel, clasp your hands behind your back. If you have really stiff shoulders, hold a strap between your hands to allow your shoulders to move more easily. Engage your leg muscles and bend forward, bringing your arms over your head and toward the floor. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly; this helps release your shoulders more. Continue breathing and allow your shoulders to relax. To release any neck stiffness, let your head hang.
PARIVRTTA PARSVAKONASANA Preparation (Revolved Side Angle Pose)
If the muscles along your spine (the erector spinae) are tight, you'll find arm-binding poses challenging, so try these twisting poses to loosen your spinal muscles. Move into a lunge with your left leg back, bending your front knee to a right angle and dropping your back knee to the floor. Twist over your right leg, placing your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh. Continue to breathe and deepen the twist and the stretch. Scoop your tailbone and draw your abdomen away from the front leg, making your back very round and high. This stretches the muscles along your spine and gives you greater freedom through your shoulders as you continue to twist.
Desiree Rumbaugh, a certified Anusara teacher and co-owner of Arizona Yoga in Scottsdale, Arizona, teaches workshops and leads retreats internationally. She can be contacted through www.azyoga.net.