You may have noticed that I’m keeping these tutorial posts on the simpler side. That is on purpose. I think that so often we get caught up in all the ‘fancy’ postures in yoga that we forget that we all have to start somewhere. Even those of us who can do arm balances and deep backbends have to come back to basics now and then. This is where we set our foundations for the practice – if you can’t feel steadiness and ease (sthira and sukha) in a Downward Dog or a Mountain Pose, how are you supposed to find it in Crow or Wheel? Even further, how can you avoid injury in those more advanced postures without having a strong foundation? So, today I bring you an Upward Salute Tutorial, also known as Urdvha Hastasana, which is another seemingly simple posture that has a lot going on.
Getting Into the Pose:
Start from Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. I encourage you to take a few breaths here before moving into your upward salute to ensure that you are starting with a steady foundation. To really find your stability work with pada bandha by lifting the toes. This will energize the arches of the feet and inner legs.
Turn the palms to face forward with the thumbs rotating back behind you and feel how this motion cues the shoulder blades to rest on the back ribs, allowing the chest to broaden. Feel the collar bones spread apart and a light stretch come across the chest. Take a deep inhale here and as you exhale encourage the shoulders to relax down away from the ears, creating length in the neck.
On your next inhale continue to draw the thumbs back behind you, encouraging external rotation of the shoulders, as you reach out through finger tips and begin to raise the arms straight out to the sides. Pause when you reach a T shape and exhale here, reminding the shoulder blades to relax down against the back ribs, and the shoulders to fall away from the ears.
From here start to notice if the floating ribs are splaying forward. If they are, bring the finger tips to the lower ribs for a moment and gently guide then back in line with the body. You should feel the core draw in enough to keep the natural curve of the spine.
Inhale again to continue reaching through finger tips reaching the arms overhead. The palms should be facing towards each other, the elbows straight, shoulders relaxed and the gaze lifted up between the palms, as long as it doesn’t hurt the neck. Check in again to make sure the floating ribs are hugged in towards the body. Make sure you only lift the arms so high that you can still keep the rest of the body in alignment.
Bring the Palms Together and gaze up towards the thumbs. Be honest with yourself here, though. I’ve been practicing yoga for about 7 years now, and because I have tight shoulders I generally cannot practice this variation without bending the elbows, so 99% of the time I just plain don’t do it. Please only take this variation if the shoulders are open enough to allow you to keep your elbows straight and the shoulder blades pressing against the back ribs. Also be mindful that you’re not scrunching the neck and shoulders up to the ears – keep lots of space there.
Add a Slight Back Bend by shifting the hips forwards to bring a stretch into the hip flexors. very gently begin to gaze up and move into a back bend beginning in the thoracic spine (upper back). Be mindful of allowing the floating ribs to splay out here – it’s a common mistake that will make you think you’re in a deeper back bend, but in reality you’re just releasing the core and compromising the integrity (read: safety) of the posture. If you’re like me and like to visualize, imagine a string tied to the solar plexus with a helium balloon on the other end. As the helium balloon rises, so does the solar plexus, and this should allow the upper back to begin to very slowly release back at an angle. Avoid taking this variation if you find any pinching in the low back or if it hurts the neck.
Tips, Tricks and Modifications:
Focus on keeping an energetic feeling in the arms, rather than worrying about how high the arms do or don’t go. This is a factor of your shoulder flexibility, lat, and deltoid strength, so just keep practicing and in time the shoulders may open up more.
No matter which variation you choose, continue to imagine the sides of the neck lengthening, this will help to keep you from over extending the neck, and it will help to encourage relaxation in the shoulders.
Keep a strong foundation in the feet. I like to engage pada bandha in order to really bring some power into the lower body and ensure that my knees aren’t locking. To do this lift just the toes up off of the ground and feel the arch of the foot start to lift. You can keep the toes here for a few breaths and when you’re ready to release keep that lifted feeling as you slowly lower the toes back down one at a time.
Were any of these tips helpful for you? What other postures would you like to see tutorials for?