Intermediate Group Class

Intense Side Stretch Pose variation
I’ve been rather consumed with this idea of the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi coming together deep in the armpit. The way they feed in toward the upper arm bone means that pec major makes up part of the muscular ridge that forms the inner or front armpit, while latissimus dorsi makes up part of the ridge that forms the outer or back armpit. (When the arms are down it makes sense to me of thinking of these ridges as front and back. When the arms are up overhead, I usually think of them as inner and outer as a result of their position relative to the head.) I’ve found that working with the armpits, chest and back in this way creates incredible strength and stability through the shoulder girdle and core, including activating and expanding serratus anterior in a powerfully supportive way.

Think of the following points as you go through the practice:
  • Soften and widen the palms, the pecs and the lats.
  • Think of the inner and outer armpits as four pillars of connection and support of the arms into the trunk. Distribute the weight and/or stretch evenly between each of the four pillars of the armpits.
  • Soften and widen the deltoid (the shoulder cap muscle), wrapping it around the shoulder joint.
  • Hollow out the armpit deep into the joint.
  • Stretch the apex of the armpit, where the lat and the pec come together, towards the palms as you either take the sternum towards or away from the head, depending on the pose. Generally, when the arms are overhead move the sternum away from the head. When they are in front of you, move them towards the head. When the arms are clasped behind the back, widen the sternum and move it deeper into the body.

A note about props: I’ve found that foam blocks are not ideal for the Down Dog and Hand Stand variations presented here. They serve their purpose, just be aware that they can be a little slippery and the wrists tend to sink into them.

The Sequence

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Lie back over a bolster arranged across the back.

Utkatasana (Furious Pose)
• Do the pose with a block between the thighs.
• Set yourself up close to a wall so that you can place your elbows and forearms on the wall without leaning forward any more than you would normally be in the pose.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Have the hands up on blocks. You might want to set yourself up with the blocks against a wall and the mat folded over the blocks if you find yourself slipping.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• Have the hands flat on either side of the feet, fingers lined up with the toes. Put blocks under the hands if necessary.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• First stage: Hand under the shoulders, palms flat, back flat. Use blocks if necessary.
• Second stage: Arms forward, head down. Palms flat again.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Hands on blocks.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• Do the pose with the hands clasping the elbows behind the back. Change the crossing when doing the second side.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Hands on blocks.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• Full pose with the hands in Pashchima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer Pose).

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
• Hands on blocks.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
• Arms alongside the ears as for Adho Mukha Shvanasana.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
• Hands clasping the elbows behind the back. Do both crossings.

Prasarita Padottanasana 2 (Wide Spread Feet Pose 2)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• With the hands flat on either side of the feet, fingers lined up with the toes.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) on a chair
• Lift the back of the armpit towards the ceiling.
• Roll the front of the armpit towards the floor.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 to 10 min.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Have a sandbag or some other weight along the length of the sternum.
• 5 min.

Ujjayi 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Be sure to take the sandbag/weight off the sternum for this.
• Full, easy expansive breaths.
• 5 min.

Ujjayi 8 (Victorious Breath 8) in any comfortable seated pose
• Put a tennis (or some other) ball under each armpit to support the arms.
• Full, easy expansive breaths.
• 5 min.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 to 10 min.


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