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Five Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Upper Body

February 24, 2024

Mention yoga and most people, including seasoned practitioners, think about flexibility, mobility, mindfulness, and perhaps even meditation. But have you considered adapting your yoga practice to develop strength? We’re not suggesting you turn into a bodybuilder. Instead, we want to devote this blog to looking at asanas from a different angle with upper body strength and stability in mind.  


Why Upper Body Strength Matters 

The term ‘upper body strength’ may conjure up images of gym devotees, but there is more to developing strength in this part of your body than you may think. A strong upper body makes almost all everyday movements easier. Just picture a typical day: most of us will spend some time in front of a computer screen. Without upper body strength, it would be impossible to sit upright.  

Lifting your kids in and out of car seats is another activity that would be impossible without those muscles. Perhaps you enjoy traveling? Putting that cabin bag in and lifting it out of the overhead storage compartment requires upper body strength. If you’re practicing other sports, a strong core and upper body will make your movements more efficient.  


Yoga for Upper Body Strength 

So, what does it all have to do with yoga? Adapting your yoga practice or adding a handful of targeted asanas to it can help you increase your upper body strength and overall stability. The rewards are plentiful: a strong upper body protects your lower back from injury and allows you to move with ease.  

Stability and strength in this area also help you get over or protect yourself from painful niggles. If you’re aiming for more advanced yoga poses, you’ll also find that upper body strength is a great building block.  

Here are five of our favorite asanas for developing your upper body: 


1. Plank Pose 

Plank poses are among the most effective to train several muscle groups at once. These poses may not look like much to begin with. However, once you hold them for a little longer, you will certainly feel their effect. 

Start on all fours on your mat. Make sure your palms are placed under your shoulders with your fingers wide apart, and slowly straighten your legs. Align your heels above your toes and keep your feet hip-width apart. Imagine a straight line from the crown of your head to your heels and look at a spot on your mat.  Hold the pose for a few breaths before carefully moving out of it. As you become stronger, you can extend your hold.  


2. Side Planks 

Side planks pick up where plank poses left off. These asanas are not only great for building upper body strength, but they will also help develop your core muscles.  

Start with your right hand on your mat, slightly in front of your shoulder. If you tend to hyper-extend your elbows, try turning the inside of your elbow slightly forward. Bring your left foot on top of your right and curl your toes toward your knees. Press down through your right hand and right foot to lift your hips away from the floor and hold the pose for several breaths. 

If you feel stable, try bringing your left hand to your hip or extending it toward the ceiling. Gaze toward your hand, if you can. If you have sensitive wrists or are still building strength, practice on your forearm, and don’t forget to change sides.  If you enjoy practicing plank poses, there are plenty of other variations to try. Talk to our instructors  


3. Dolphin Pose 

Dolphin Pose

Many new practitioners think of this pose as a variation of downward-facing dog, and you can certainly start from that pose. Lower your elbows and forearms to the floor, keeping them parallel and no more than shoulder-width apart.  

Lift your hips up and press the thighs back toward the wall behind you. Remember to keep your knees slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. Bending your knees helps to keep your back straight. Pull your shoulder blades away from your ears and toward your hips. Open your chest toward your thighs to create even more length in your spine and relax your neck. Hold for a few breaths. To release, bring your knees to the floor and rest in child’s pose.  


4. Upward Facing Dog 

Start by lying on your belly on your mat with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your palms below your shoulders and spread your fingers. Push into the floor and lift your hips and thighs off the mat. Pull your shoulders away from your ears to lengthen your neck and open the chest.  

Try to keep your neck in a comfortable position looking forward and up without force. Stay for a few breaths and lower yourself slowly.  


5. Handstand Against the Wall 

As with any advanced pose or any asana involving inversions, start slowly and ask someone to support you or practice with an instructor.  

Start by sitting with your hips against a wall and your legs pointing straight in front of you. Now place your hands where your heels are to maintain the same distance to the floor and come into a tabletop position. Keep your wrists under your shoulders and lift your hips into a shorter version of downward dog.  

Place one foot after the other on the wall and walk your feet up until your legs are parallel to the floor. Stack your shoulders and hips above your wrists. Once you become stronger, there are one-handed variations to this pose, too. To release, walk slowly down and come back to tabletop.  


How to Get Started 

Are you tempted but a little apprehensive about using yoga to build upper body strength? Try one of our Strictly Core classes to start building a body that will support you no matter what you want to do today and every day of your life.  

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