3 Yoga Prop Variations to Strengthen Your Shoulders in Upward Hands Pose

Mountain Pose orTadasana with arms outstretched holding yoga blocks.

Article At A Glance

Upward Hands Pose in Mountain Pose (Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana) is a simple, elegant standing pose. Practicing it with stability and ease in equal measure takes time and focus. Here are three propped variations to help us learn to straighten the arms, strengthen the shoulders, and stabilize the core.

Upward Hands Pose in Mountain Pose (Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana) is a simple, elegant standing pose. Practicing it with stability and ease in equal measure takes time and focus.

Some other names of the posture are Palm Tree Pose (Talasana), Extended Arms Pose, Upward Salute, and Raised Arms Pose. No matter the vocabulary, the name translates to Upward Hands Pose in Sanskrit, which offers us a clear vision of its shape and direction. 

Here are three propped variations to help us learn to straighten the arms, strengthen the shoulders, and stabilize the core.

Upward Hands Pose in Mountain Pose with a Yoga Strap

Upward Arms Pose variation practiced with a yoga strap.

By encouraging your arms to stay firm and straight, you may meet resistance along the way up overhead. Being patient at the spot where your arms are about to bend is what will, with repetition, strengthen your arms and shoulders. You will find that resisting bending your arms allows you to get the sides of your trunk to stretch higher and higher.

  1. Put a loop in a strap that measures about armpit to armpit. Test the measurement by slipping the loop up just above your wrists. Adjust the loop so when you stretch your arms straight, your upper arms are parallel. For many of us, the hands will be wider than shoulders-width apart when the upper arms are parallel. 
  2. Once the loop is the correct size, slide the buckle around until the strap’s buckle and tail are close to one of your arms. 
  3. Stand in Mountain Pose with your feet hip-width apart. 
  4. With the belt looped around your wrists, stretch your arms forward to about chest height.
  5. Turn the palms to face one another. Stretch the fingers and the thumbs away from your chest.
  6. Press your wrists against the strap to firm and straighten your arms. 
  7. Press your heels down as you raise your straight arms. They could go all the way up alongside your ears if you let them bend at the elbow. However, it’s more important that they remain firm and straight than that they arrive at a particular place. 
  8. Stretch from the sides of your hips to the armpits, the armpits to the elbows, the elbows to the wrists and fingers. 
  9. Breathe smoothly. As you inhale, stretch your arms further away from your hips. As you exhale, press your heels down to resist the fronts of your thighs back. 
  10. Keep all the length you’ve created on the sides of your trunk as you exhale and return your arms by your sides.

Practice Tips for Using a Yoga Strap

  1. Can you allow your outer shoulder blades to lift up and around the outer upper arm as your arms go up? That action is called the upward rotation of the shoulder blade.
  2. The shoulder blades neither pull down away from the neck nor do they hike up into the ears. They lift enough to stretch the sides of the trunk while leaving room for the head and neck to feel free.

Upward Hands Pose with a Yoga Block Between Your Hands

Using yoga blocks to help practice Mountian Pose and Upward Arms Pose.

  1. Hold a yoga block in one hand. Stand in Mountain Pose with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Place the block widthwise between your palms.
  3. Straighten your arms in front of you. Lift the block to chest height. 
  4. Press your palms, fingers, and thumbs evenly and firmly into the sides of the block. Emphasize pressing the little finger sides of your palms as you:
    a. See the biceps (inner upper arms) rotate toward the ceiling.
    b. Hug the triceps (outer upper arms) to the bone to straighten the arms more fully.

yoga blocks used here to help learn the arm actions in Upward Arms Pose variation.

  1. Keep palming the block and inhale as you press your heels down and raise your arms (forward and up) away from your feet. If the arms bend as you lift them higher, lower them until your arms straighten again. Park at your edge for a few smooth breaths.
  2. As you reach your hands further up, anchor your feet down more and stretch from the sides of your hips to your armpits to the elbows and fingers. 
  3. As your arms stretch further, lift the back of your ribs away from the waist to elongate your lower back.
  4. Maintain the new length of the sides of your trunk as you mindfully lower your arms. Return to Mountain Pose.

Practice Tips for Using a Yoga Block

  • The more you press your hands into the block, the more likely your jaw will grip. Practice softening the tight spots and stabilizing the weak spots.
  • Look straight ahead to a point on the horizon. Often, the head will go down as the arms try to go up. If you see a lot of floorboards or carpet in front of you, you will know you have dropped your head to bring your ears in line with your arms. 
  • Deliberately draw the outer arms into the bones to engage your triceps. These muscles straighten your arms at the elbow.

Upward Hands Pose at the Wall

The muscle actions of Mountain Pose and Arms Overhead Pose can be learned with feedback or help from a wall.

The wall is like a mirror for the back of the body in this variation. 

  1. Stand in Mountain Pose with your back touching the wall.
  2. Organize your feet comfortably apart and parallel.
  3. Press your heels down and spread your toes.
  4. Press your thighs back toward the wall as you lift your back ribs up the wall. 
  5. Pay close attention to the parts of your body that touch the wall as you raise your arms overhead with your palms facing one another.
  6. Straighten and stretch your arms as though they begin at the sides of your hips rather than the shoulders. Let the stretch of your arms lengthen the sides of your trunk from the hips to the armpits. 
  7. Lift the back of your body higher up the wall as you press your thighs back into the wall. These two actions will create core stability and make space inside, allowing you to breathe and embody the pose.
  8. To come out of the posture, synchronize the lowering of your arms with your exhalation. 

Practice Tips at the Wall

  • There is no rush getting your hands overhead to touch the wall. It may be a long time before you can coordinate all the actions of the pose and get your arms right up alongside your arms. There’s no rush. More important is the space you make in the body.
  • After you try the pose at the wall once, practice Eagle Pose Arms (Garudasana Arms) for eight long breaths on each side. Then return to Upward Hands Pose and see if stretching the rhomboids gives you more access to straighten the arms as they go up.
  • The lower back will naturally curve away from the wall. If you feel it jam into the body away from the wall (too much curve), let the arms move slightly forward to allow your lumbar curve to return to neutral. 
Sarah Bell

Sarah Bell (ERYT-500, YACEP) has been teaching yoga for more than twenty-five years. She was on the faculty of the Yoga Works Teacher Training Program for fifteen years, having trained hundreds of teachers in both the 200-hour Introductory Courses and the 300-hour Professional Programs throughout the country and abroad. She is the creator of Speaking of Yoga, a voice and communication course for yoga teachers, as well as Beyond the Postures, a  course that introduces yoga philosophy, anatomy, pranayama, and meditation to curious yoga practitioners. She mentors yoga teachers along the path as they find their voice and refine their skills. For more information on her upcoming retreats, courses, and classes, find her at www.sarahbellyoga.com

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