I touched on placement of the arms when I introduced the idea of coordinated breath and movement. I would like to revisit this with some images to reinforce some of the fine points as a preparation and reference for upcoming posts on postures. The base posture for this explanation will continue to be lying on the back with the feet on the floor and arms alongside the body. The movement is simply raising the arms above the head all the way to the floor and then returning them back alongside the body.
There is a tendency to stretch the arms straight above the head when actually there is a better and more effective position. This position is unique for every person, so you will need to find it for yourself. Here are some focuses to help point you in the right direction. You are looking for a position in which the arms are placed completely on the floor – something like this:
The first thing to focus on is your elbows – you want to get the elbows on the floor. It you insist on stretching your arms too far you may find that your elbows are raised from the floor. Avoid this by releasing the shoulders and bending your arms enough to enable your elbows to settle on the floor.
Next check your fingers – all 10 of them (count – you’d be surprised how much the mind is willing to cut corners). They should be stretched flat on the floor – all 10 fingernails should be touching the floor.
Finally bring attention to the backs of the hands. They too should be placed flat on the floor.
Take some time to find the correct place for your arms. You may find that your position is far from straight arms – this is fine. Practice from your position and your posture will improve. Over reaching will create strain, stiffness and deplete your energy – leaving your body and consciousness with very little space for observing, learning and improving.
Here is a simple practice sequence for assimilating this:
- Lay on your back, feet on the floor and place the arms above your head – remain in this position exploring until you find your position.
- Add Ujjayi breathing – and remain static – feel the affect of the breath on your selected position for 8 breaths.
- Return the arms alongside the body – begin a dynamic practice – using Ujjayi breathing – inhaling as your move the arms to your selected position, exhaling as you bring the arms back alongside the body – repeat this 8 times.
- Sit on your knees with a straight back – repeat the movement another 8 times with Ujjayi breathing. Be attentive to the position of the arms – there is no floor to provide a reference.
- Stand up, feet together, arms alongside the body – and again repeat the movement 8 times with Ujjayi breathing.
Correct arms position is a healthy habit to form early in your practice – it will resonate with many (if not most) of the postures you will practice in Yoga. Unlearning an incorrect position will take much longer and will limit the effectiveness of many postures.