Many people doubt that yoga can tone your upper body and increase overall physical strength. I typically share in class that I haven’t lifted a dumbbell since the late '90s, and I feel stronger than I did in my twenties.
When I first started yoga, my arms were like jelly and holding Downward Dog was a struggle; however, with consistent practice, I soon developed enough strength to balance on my hands and do inversions.
Here are 5 basic yoga postures you can do to start building or increasing your upper body strength.
1. Downward Dog
Not only does this posture strengthen your shoulders and legs, but it also stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves and arches. In addition, it energizes the body, relieves stress, and improves digestion.
How to: Come to your hands and knees. Make sure your shoulders are aligned over your wrists and hips over your knees. Curl your toes under and slowly begin to straighten your legs as you exhale. As the legs straighten, lift the hips towards the ceiling and press the heels towards the floor. Firm up the thighs, engage the outer arms by drawing the triceps inward, and broaden the shoulder blades. Continue to breathe deeply as your head releases between your arms.
Plank is perfect for strengthening the arms, wrists, and the spine. It's also a great ab toner.
How to: From Downward Dog, take an inhale and mindfully shift forward so your spine is parallel to the floor and shoulders are over the wrists. Draw the triceps inward. The belly reaches towards the spine and the tailbone to the heels. Extend the heels to the wall behind you. Keep the gaze soft and look to the top of the mat as the back of your neck stays long.
A difficult posture to master, but it is perfect for strengthening the arms and wrists as well as toning the abs.
How to: From Plank, bend your arms on the exhale as you lower your body towards the floor. Be mindful not to lower the body past the 90 degree angle you are creating with the arms. Keep the tailbone extending towards the heels, belly to the spine, and chest forward. Maintain space between the shoulder blades and the arms should hug tight to the body.
4. Side Plank
This really works the arms, abs, wrists, and legs. It's also a great pose to improve balance and overall stability in the body.
How to: From Plank, slowly shift your body over to the right foot and stack right foot over the left. Lift your left arm towards the sky as your left shoulder and hips stack over the right side. Maintain strength in the arms, draw the belly to the spine, and extend the tailbone to the heels. If it feels comfortable or for an extra challenge, take the gaze up.
5. Upward Dog
Upward Dog is an overall body toner. It strengthens the spine, arms, and wrists. As it improves your posture, it stretches the shoulders, chest, and abs as well as tones the butt.
How to: From your Chaturanga, take a deep inhale and begin to draw your chest up and forward as you straighten the arms. Roll slowly over to the tops of the feet while keeping the quads off the floor. Engage your quads by lifting them towards the ceiling. Firm the shoulder blades against the back and stack shoulders over wrists. Lift the chest and draw the shoulders away from the ears. Take the gaze in forward and the chin parallel to the floor.
Try putting these postures into your routine and get ready to enjoy a strong, toned, and lean upper body. Although these poses can be challenging, they will all award you with many benefits. Start today!