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  • Arm Supported Yoga Poses
    Sequenced Activation for Integrated Postures

    Arm supported yoga poses include Cat pose, Knees Lifted Cat pose (Dog Pose?), plank pose, chaturanga dandasana (or crocodile pose or yoga push up), downward dog, dolphin pose, forearm stand, headstand (how to), handstand (L-shaped), arm balances including crow pose, side plank variations including elbow supported and palm supported versions, table top pose, reverse plank, reverse push up, crown supported bridge pose and wheel pose.

    Dealing with Wrist Pain

    Arm supported yoga poses, particularly those where the wrists are bent at ninety degrees or close to it, can be challenging for the wrists and for some people lead to wrist pain. One type of exercise that may help alleviate wrist pain is hanging from a chin up bar. Work at applying tension to all fingers evenly.

    Another possible route to alleviating wrist pain is to use the hands with more awareness. Practice pressing into the heel of the palm, the forehand and the fingertips, then practice combinations of any pair of these pressure points.

    Another route to alleviating wrist pain is to tilt the hand left or right with minimal rotation of the forearms.

    Tilting the hands outwards may rotate the forearms outwards slightly and create a slight arch in the palm of the hand. This action along with pressing through the heel of the hand and finger tips may be helpful for wrist pain.

    Additionally pay attention to the elbows, try stabilizing them, and the shoulders in particular how they are being used with respect to the ribcage.

    Starting with a Stable Spine and Ribcage

    In general arm supported yoga poses can be built from the ribcage outwards. The idea is to stabilize the ribcage first, making it rigid with intercostal action and/or upper transverse abdominus and posterior serratus anterior activation. From there the scapular stabilizing muscles have a firm foundation, the ribcage, from which to act on the scapulae.

    In most arm support yoga poses, the abs may need to be activated to help support the lower back and so ribcage stabilization can be helpful in this regard also in that it gives the abs a stable foundation from which to act on the pelvis.

    With the ribcage, lumbar spine and pelvis stable, then the arm muscles including the latissimus dorsai have a stale foundation from which to operate effectively and efficiently on the arms.

    For people with wrist problems, one you've practice some of the hand control options listed above, work at spinal stabilization followed by scapular stabilization in turn followed by activating the hands and fingers.

    You could imagine using your arms in a way similiar to pushing a car, you brace your legs, your spine and then use your arms.
    Or you brace your spine, then use your legs and arms.

    Lengthening the Spine to Stabilize It

    A very simple technique to use for bracing the parts of the spine are to practice lengthening it. As an example, to lengthen your lumbar spine draw your ribs away from your pelvis. Then open your chest and try to feel your thoracic spine lengthening as you do so. Then draw your ears away from your ribcage so that your neck feels long.

    Start with keeping the chin tucked in so that you emphasize lengthening the back of your neck.

    Cat Pose

    Check out scapular awareness for scapular stability exercises, but once you've lengthened your spine in a pose like cat pose you can then use your shoulders to lift your ribcage, at the same time stabilizing your shoulders. The drill can be: lengthen the spine then use your shoulders to lift your ribcage while keeping your spine long.

    Another option: press down through finger tips and the heel of each hand first, then spread the shoulders blades to lift your ribcage, then lengthen your spine.

    Once you have the feel for these actions try lifting your knees. You only have to lift your knees clear off of the floor to add weight to this pose and to that end I'd suggest working at minimal knee lift, half an inch or a centimeter at most.

    A sequence of activations could be: lift the knees, lengthen your spine, lift your chest, press through heel of hand and finger tips. Or try the reverse sequence.

    Hold the lifted position and practice breathing smoothly and peacefully.

    Plank Pose

    A progression from here that adds more stress to the arms is to move to plank pose.

    Keeping your shoulders over your wrists, and spine long, straighten one knee at a time and align heels, hips and shoulders. Try to create a single unbroken line of tension from heels to the crown of your head. Make this line feel as long as possible. Initially pause briefly in this pose then release then work at longer holds while breathing with a smooth and relaxed breath.

    Yoga Push Ups

    A variation of this pose is crocodile or chaturanga dandasana and yoga push ups has details on working towards this pose from the ground up. You can also follow along with this video.

    Downward Facing Dog

    An arm supported yoga pose like downward dog can be learned in stages staring with the knees on the ground.

    Here the focus can start with the hands, pressing palms and fingers tips down and forwards and then from there using the shoulders to push the ribcage back. Lengthen the spine either starting from the head or the pelvis. Because your hands are on the floor and your shoulders are, ideally, active you'll find that lengthening your spine causes your pelvis to move backwards. Once you have a feeling for this try downward dog with knees lifted, then knees straight then with heels down.

    Read downward dog for a more detailed explanation of these exercises.

    Dolphin Pose

    A variation of downward dog that can be used as a prep for headstand and forearm stand is dolphin pose.

    In this pose the focus can be on pushing the elbows as well as the palms into the floor. If you do it with hands clasped then press the outer edge of each hand into the floor and as in down dog use your shoulders to push your ribcage back and then lengthen your spine.

    Read more in dolphin pose and you can also follow along with this video.

    Crow Pose and Other Arm Balances

    Crow pose is one of the simpler arm balances. I've covered it in detail in crow pose.

    You can also follow along with this video.

    Note how in arm balances the body is balanced on the hands but also one or both legs rests on the back of the arm or arms. These types of arm supported yoga poses can actually be relatively easy. Think of crow pose as roughly equivalent to cat pose but instead of the knees resting on the floor they rest on the backs of the arms.

    Balancing Cat Pose or Bird Dog

    As a way of working towards side plank another type of arm supported pose that uses one arm and one leg is balancing cat.

    A more challenging version of this pose, also called bird dog, is to lift the same side leg and arm, and even harder is grabbing the lifted foot with the same side arm.

    Side Plank Pose

    Side plank and its variations offer a way of practicing single arm strength with the body turned sideways.

    Easier versions can start on the elbow and harder versions on the hand. As with regular plank you can lengthen spine, lift chest then work on the hand or start at the hand, then the shoulder then lengthen your spine. For more details read side plank pose and balancing in side plank pose.

    Table Top Pose

    Depending on how you orient your hands Table Top Yoga Pose can be painful on the elbows. One way around this is to squeeze the elbows.

    Read fluid tensegrity to find out more about stabilizing joint capsules with muscle tension.

    Reverse Plank

    Reverse plank is a more challenging pose using the same arm position.

    You can read more about this arm supported yoga pose in the article reverse plank.

    Wheel Pose

    One of the more challenging arm supported yoga poses is wheel pose, particularly if your backbends are not that good and even more so if you have weak arms.

    One way to work towards this pose is with the exercise I call reverse push up. It's called reverse push up because you do it on your back instead of your front.

    Basically press your hands down to lift your ribcage.

    The next step up is to move into bridge pose with your head on the floor and repeat the exercise.

    You'll then be working on strengthening your arms while moving towards wheel pose.

    For more on using the legs in wheel pose read wheel pose.

    You may also find this video helpful.

    For a selection of gravity assisted stretches you can use after strengthening your arms check out arm stretches.

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