Chest Openers

Basic Practice: Strengthening the Back of the Armpits

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In this practice the goal is to strengthen the sides of the body, rather than push from the chest or pinch the shoulder blades together. In all the poses, keep the upper back and chest equally wide. Strengthen the triceps and outer edge of the shoulder blade/armpit area by doing the following:
  • Move the shoulder blades down the back, away from the head.
  • Move them forward, onto the back, while widening the ribs into them, creating strength in the outer armpit.
  • In poses with the arms out to the side or by the head, allow the shoulder blades to move with the arms.
  • In poses with the arms behind the back--Purvottanasana (Intense East Stretch Pose), Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) and Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)--move the shoulder blades towards the chest and away from the upper arms, softening and widening the chest muscles and collar bones.

The Sequence:

Garudasana (Eagle Pose) arms in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with the back against the wall

Side Stretch at wall
• Lean the right side of the body into the wall with the right arm overhead.
• Bend the right elbow, take hold of it with the left hand and draw the arm up and over the top of the head. Hold for a minute or two and repeat on the second side.

Urdhva Baddha Hastasana (Upward Bound Hands Pose) with the back against the wall

Opening Vinyasa:
All Fours
Plank Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Child’s Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Lunge with the back knee up
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Hopping back and forth between Adho Mukha Shvanasana and Uttanasana 3 or 4 times
Child’s Pose

Parivrtta Parshvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose) simple variation with the hand on the floor and not crossed over the front thigh

Vashisthasana (Vashistha’s Pose) variation with the elbow bent and the forearm on the floor

Vashisthasana (Vashistha’s Pose)

Pashchima Baddha Hastasana (Elbows Clasped Behind the Back) in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) with a block under the pelvis

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) from the floor
• 2 or 3 attempts.

Pashchima Baddha Hastasana (Elbows Clasped Behind the Back) in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)

Purvottanasana (Intense East Stretch Pose) table top tariation with the hands on blocks
• Do the pose twice.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) with the feet on blocks
• Either hold on to the ankles directly, or loop a belt around them and hold on to that.

Reclined Hip Stretch

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) with the feet on the floor
• Either hold on to the ankles directly, or loop a belt around them and hold on to that.

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2) with the leg resting on a block, blanket or bolster

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) with the feet on the wall

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose) soft variation with the hips and waist on the Sarvangasana blankets

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a lift under the trunk


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Level 1 Group Class: Opening the Chest and Shoulders

sq_basics
The general idea here is to create width and openness across the collarbones and top chest while also keeping the upper and middle back broad. The sequence is perhaps a little more than basic as it has an inversion prep in it.

The Sequence

Side Stretch at the wall
• Stand with the feet together about eight to twelve inches away from the wall and lean the right hip, waist and ribs against it. Reach the right arm up. Pause here for a few breaths.
• Come up onto the balls of the feet. Stay here for a few breaths.
• Slowly drop the right heel, resisting up through the ribs and arms to lengthen out the right side of the waist. When the right heel is down, drop the left.
• Bend the right elbow and clasp it with the left hand. Draw the upper arm bone up towards the ceiling. Hold here for a few breaths.
• Take the tip of the elbow up and over the top of the head while keeping the outer armpit moving into the wall. Hold here for a few breaths.
• Turn the chest a slightly into the middle of the room to send the stretch towards the back. Hold here for a few breaths.
• Release and repeat on the second side.

Garudasana (Eagle Pose) arms with the back against the wall

Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana (Upward Bound Fingers Pose) with the back against the wall

All Fours
• Take a moment to seal your hands into the mat while widening the upper back and the top of the chest.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Child’s Pose

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Child’s Pose

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
• Put the hand of the raised arm on the hip.
• Press the collarbone away from the ear and roll it up towards the ceiling.

Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Bharadwajasana 1 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1) simple variation
• Turn the head away from the direction of the twist.

Bharadwajasana 1 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1) full pose with bound arm
• Turn the head away from the direction of the twist.

IMG_2180
Head Stand Preparation
• Do twice, once with each interlock of the fingers.

Right Angle Forearm Stand at the wall
• Sit with the buttocks against the wall and mark off where the heels are. Set yourself up in the Head Stand Prep with the elbows where the heels were.
• Walk the feet up the wall to hip height.
• Hold for several seconds and repeat with the second interlock of the fingers.

Purvottanasana (Intense East Stretch Pose) table top variation
• Have the hands on blocks.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) with the feet on the chair

Ardha Halasana (Half Plough Pose) with the toes on the chair
Eka Pada Sarvangasana (Single Leg Shoulder Stand)
Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a lift under the trunk and head
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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Level 1 Group Class: Strength and Mobility of the Shoulders

The Shoulder Blade
In this class we are working with the shoulder blades, the ribs underneath and the muscles around them. We need to find strength around the shoulder blade by creating a seal between shoulder blade and back. This seal happens both from pressing the shoulder blade forward onto the ribcage, but also by expanding the ribs back into the shoulder blade. Sealing the shoulder blades does not mean pinching them together. If the space between them (the rhomboids and trapezius) grips, then they will not be able to move with the arms, which they need to do for proper mobility of the shoulder. Throughout the class keep the back of the neck and the space between the shoulder blades soft, even when the arms are behind the back. Find support for the arms not by tensing the upper back, deltoids and neck, but by expanding and lifting the ribcage.

The Sequence

Reclined Hug
• Lie on the back with the feet on the floor and the knees pointing up.
• Wrap the arms around the chest to clasp the shoulder blades.
• Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, softening and widening the back from the tailbone to to back of the skull.
• Change the crossing of the arms and hold for the same amount of time.

All Fours into Child’s Pose
• Rock back and forth between All Fours and Child’s Pose, exhale back and inhaling forward.
• Seal the hands into the mat.
• Observe and allow the shoulder blades to slide along the back: moving forward with the arms as you go into Child’s Pose, sliding back down towards the tailbone as you go back to All Fours.

Plank Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Observe and allow the same movement as you make the transition from the first pose to the second.

Reclined Chest Opener
• Lie back in Shavasana (Corpse Pose).
• Raise the right arm overhead and place the left hand on the top of the chest just below the right collarbone.
• As you inhale, reach strongly through the arm.
• As you exhale, keep reaching through the arm, fixing it in place, and press the chest down into the floor.
• Expand the back ribs on the right into the shoulder blade and the floor.
• Do this for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Child’s Pose
Plank Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Seal the hands into the floor, the shoulder blades into the back and the back into the shoulder blades as you transition through each of these poses.

Block Lifts Over a Roll
• Roll a mat up and lie back over it with the roll across the bottom of the shoulder blades so that the shoulders are not all the way down on the floor. Adjust the position of the roll to make the neck comfortable.
• Hold onto a block (a foam block is a little easier than a wooden block) between both hands and reach the block up towards the ceiling.
• Seal the shoulder blades into the back and the back into the shoulder blades.
• Slowly bring the arms and block up and over the head to the floor. Allow the shoulder blades to move with the block, keeping the strong seal. Make sure the block doesn’t wobble from side to side. If it does, re-trace that part of the arc to make the movement as smooth as possible.
• With the arms alongside the ears, reach the arms and legs away from each other.
• Brace the back into the roll and slowly lift the block back up without jerking or wobbling.
• Repeat this two or three times.

Child’s Pose
Plank Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose)
• Come into the pose through Utthita Hastasana (arms out to the side).
• Inhale bring the arms up to shoulder height with the palms facing down.
• Exhale, turn the palms, elbows and biceps up.
• Pause here and stretch evenly from the upper back and the top chest, pulling the wrists away from each other.
• Exhale and lift the arms overhead, allowing the shoulder blades to move with the arms.

Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2)
• As the arms grow tired expand and lift from the ribcage to support the shoulders.

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose)

“Up and Over” chest stretches
• Hold onto a belt with the hands wide apart.
• Inhale and bring the arms up over head. Exhale, bring the arms down behind the back.
• Inhale and bring the arms up overhead. Exhale, bring the arms down in front.
• Repeat this for a minute or two.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) chest opener
• Put a shoulder-width belt around the biceps just above the elbows.
• Bend the knees and lean forward, resting the abdomen on the thighs,
• Exhale and bring the arms overhead. Start with the elbows bent. Straighten them after a few breaths.
• Reach through the arms, but allow gravity to do most of the work for you.
• Try and clear the upper arms away from the back of the armpit to open the chest.

Purvottanasana (Intense East Stretch Pose) table top variation
• Hands on blocks.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Feet on blocks.
• Hold onto a belt around the ankles.

Reclined Glute Stretch with one ankle on the opposite thigh

Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1) with the feet on the wall

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Fold blankets for a gentle lift under the trunk.


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Level 1 Group Class

Elbows Clasped Behind the Back
All Fours INTO Child’s Pose
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) with the elbows clasped behind the back
• Have a blanket behind the knees.
• Both crossings of the arms.

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana (Upward Bound Fingers Pose) in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose)

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Bharadwajasana 1 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1)
• Simple variation without binding the arms.
• Turn the head away from the leading shoulder to stretch out the neck and top chest.

Bharadwajasana 1 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1)
• Full pose with one arm behind the back. Hold onto the arm with a belt if necessary.
• Turn the head away from the leading shoulder to stretch out the neck and top chest.

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) with the elbows clasped behind the back
• Flat back and full forward bend.

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)

Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose) with the arms extended forward

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

All Fours INTO Plank Pose INTO Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Keep the palms firmly sealed into the mat.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Feet on blocks, holding a belt around the ankles.

Reclined Glute Stretch
• Lie on the back with one ankle on the opposite thigh. Draw the legs in.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Feet on blocks, holding a belt around the ankles.

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)
• Passive variation with the knees bent and the whole body resting on the floor.

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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Level 1 Group Class

Belly Turning Pose (Knees Bent)
Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Downward Facing Comfortable Pose)
• Do both leg crossings.

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
• Simple variation, with the legs in Sukhasana (Comfortable Pose), lying back flat on the ground holding onto the elbows with the arms overhead.
• Do both leg crossings.

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
• Sitting up on blankets.

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
• Sitting up on blankets.
• Block between the feet.

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
• Legs only, with forward bend if possible.

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Dolphin shoulder/chest opener

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Dolphin shoulder/chest opener
• Second interlock of the fingers.

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
• Foam block between the feet.
• Holding onto the sids of the mat.

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
• Foam block between the feet.
• Hands under the shoulders as if about to do Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose).

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
• Foam block between the feet.
• Arms alongside ears with hands under sandbags or free weights to anchor upper body.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)
• Hands under sandbags or free weights to anchor upper body.
• Knees bent.

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)
• Hands under sandbags or free weights to anchor upper body.
• Knees bent as you begin, then work on straightening the legs.

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose)
• Hands under sandbags or free weights to anchor upper body.
• If able, with the leg straight. Otherwise repeat the previous version.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Feet on blocks.
• Holding on to the ankles with a belt.
• Three repetitions, holding for 30 to 60 seconds each.

Reclined buttock stretch

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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