When your first leave the comfort of your bed each morning, what’s the first thing you want to do? Like other animals—think about your cat or dog—our instinct is to stretch out. While we sleep, our bodies immobile, the fascia that surrounds our muscles tightens. In order to wake up our muscles, we need to loosen this outer sheath. So we stretch.
So our first actual asana of the day might be a simple standing stretch. In asana practice, this stretch is called Urdva Hastasana (Upward Hands or Upward Salute Pose). In the context of a vinyasa class it’s often the pose that initiates the whole sequence. From Urdva Hastasana, everything else follows.
Upward Salute is not just a pose to pass over quickly in order to get to the asanas that follow. It’s an asana in its own right. Often, in pursuit of “fancier” poses, we overlook the power of those that seem simpler. The pursuit of extreme sensation actually leads away from yoga’s greatest gift—the quiet mind. Urdhva Hastasana can teach us to look more deeply and to appreciate subtlety.
Urdhva Hastasana invigorates the body and mind. It’s a great pose for shaking off the midday doldrums. Try practicing it every 20-30 minutes to break up your desk-sitting time. It promotes balancing skills and helps you stretch the oft-neglected side body. When practiced with attention to continuity, it can help to realign your posture.
How to Practice Urdhva Hastasana
- Stand on a yoga mat with your feet together. (Placing your feet hips-width apart is also okay and may help you feel more grounded.)
- Press the soles of the feet down into the floor.
- Place your hands in Anjali Mudra.
- Keeping your palms together, raise your arms up toward the sky until your arms are straight.
- Alternatively, you can stretch your arms upward, keeping them parallel with your palms facing each other. Or if you like, you can clasp your fingers and turn your palms upward.
- With the arms raised upward, continue to root your feet into the floor. Feed your pelvis down into your legs and feet, and grow your waist up out of your pelvis.
- You can keep your head in a neutral position, looking straight ahead. Or, you can draw your throat back toward your cervical spine and tilt your head slightly back, lengthening your neck as you go. Do not overextend the neck by letting your head simply hang backward.
- Check for continuity. The next three points, 8, 9 and 10, will help you refine your asana.
- Are your front ribs poking forward so that your back ribs are collapsing toward your pelvis? If so, lift your back ribs and draw your front ribs back.
- Is your tailbone tucking? Instead, draw the tops of your thighs back so that you maintain your spinal curves. But take care not to poke your bottom ribs forward as you draw your thighs back.
- Are you struggling to keep your shoulder blades down (as in Anusara’s “shoulder loop”)? Our shoulder joints are designed so that when we raise our arms, our shoulder blades should wing out to the sides to give us more reach. Trying to slide our shoulder blades down while raising our arms impedes our ability to stretch. So allow the shoulder blades to wing out to the sides.
- Take 5 to 10 deep breaths.
- With your palms together, lower your arms toward your chest. Pause here for a breath or two before allowing your arms to dangle at your sides.
Urdhva Hastasana is not just a throwaway pose, one that leads to more important ones. It can invigorate your entire body, teach you about creating continuity through your joints and give you access to a peaceful mind. Practice with awareness and ease.