Okay, so the backbends go well, from my sterum to my toes. All I’ve got to do is crack open the armpits. Which, I think, means the chest.


I’ll admit, when the whole “open your chest” thing came up in yoga, years ago, I had a physical/spiritual swap-out in my mind. I think it was because the concept was presented as “open your heart.” I thought I would be able to drop back and kapotasana as soon as I gave up all of my constricting spiritual habits, like being dualistic (look, I’m doing it right now!), thinking of myself as separate from everything else in the universe, indulging in discursive thought, cultivating little internal fears — you know, all the things that separate me from the one.

So I’ve been trying to plump up and pry open the individuated-self-jerky of my heart.

To good effect, truth be told. Relationships, both personal and professional, go better with yoga.

But you know, the issue of my armpits is still out there. Armpits. Really, this is what it all comes down to?

Actually, I think it’s a pectorallatissimusrhomboiddeltoidandallassociatedfascia issue. Oh, and don’t forget the rotator cuff!

I definitely have old fear about the rotator cuff on my left side, which was my most recent (though a good 4 years in the past) sports injury. Perhaps one’s most recent injury is always the one that seems most tenuous?

I’m reaching out to the cybershala for any armpit thoughts. At this point, I am crankin’ the pits with pushing into the arms in urdhva dhanurasana, hanging off the bed with weights (I’d love to hear thoughts re: efficacious arm positions for bed hangs), hanging over the wooden barrel (also known as “the rack”), and doing pigeon pose with a strap linked around the back foot, which I use to puuuullll open my chest as I lean back.

Oh, and by the way: I want a medal for all of this. I was brought up on the east coast to NOT have an open heart. Yet here I am, zazened into emotional openness and now actually cracking open the musculature to match. I imagine my family would attribute this to the years I spent in California.

Yup. Cracking myself open and turning everything inside out. Like a lobster with the good stuff on the outside.

How am I going to live without my exoskeleton?


9 Responses

  1. hi Karen
    well, Seven Petal Lotus recommends, whenever one is doing one of these bedhangs, that the feet be firm, rotating slightly inwards, as if you were standing, and that the arms be parallel, the shoulders not splayed out. the arms parallel protect the shoulders, hence the armpits. i’ve bee using wooden blocks in place of weights, since i’m hanging off the side of the couch at the shala. hope that helps.

  2. You are too cute!

  3. Once you figure out how to crack open your armpits, please let everyone know. Tight shoulders are also my biggest issue, although today I may have broken a toe crashing out of pincha mayurasana. Anyone know how you can tell whether your toe is broken? (I know, x-ray….)

  4. Dear Karen,

    I am your armpits. Let me tell you a bit about myself. First, I am not the whole story. Nor should I be confused with shoulders. I am wholly separate from shoulders. I am the deep, dark cave that lurks UNDER your shoulders. When your REAR deltoid softens and the wings of your shoulders can actually be seen to spread laterally when you raise your arms, THEN the cave that is me, will become flatter. As I become flatter, you will be able to do a backbend with your hands almost directly below your shoulders, and your head hanging right in between your shoulders.

    I want you to get together with Lauren – Yoga Chickie – when she is in Phoenix starting Christmas. She will show you the dynamics of what has to change and how it will even LOOK on your body as it changes. You will actually SEE your armpits flatten. Shaving your pits will be easier! You will begin to see your ribcage articulate away from your belly. It is quite astounding. And it isn’t ALL because of me, your armpits, but it is definitely the place that you need to focus your energy on – ALONG with opening up your THORACIC.

    BED HANGS. BED HANGS. Hold the weights laterally, and let them stretch sideways like you’re doing a chest thing in weight lifting. But instead, you’re hanging. This will open your chest laterally. And me – the armpit – goes along for the ride. Then let the weights drop over head, let them hang. haaaaaang. You CAN stretch.

    Remember this: children get braces for their teeth – these everyday inchings along of the teeth moves BONE in the jaw! So you can do THIS!

    And the wall thing – face against the wall and have your knees just far enough away that you can drop onto your hands and have your the crease of your wrist supported at the crease between wall and floor. And press those hands down baby. Straighten those arms. Your chest will POP open. It will be a teeny bit scary. But it will be awesome. And the more you do it, the less scary. And then when you feel comfy, from that position, put your feet flat on the floor and press up into the best urdvha dhanurasana you are capable of doing.

    See Lauren for some fun with backbends…you guys can learn a lot from each other. Doesn’t have to be at a Mysore practice or at the led class. Just hang out and trade backbending tips and tricks….

    Lauren has decided that for some of you backbend-challenged folks, it is the only way to move forward. And it must be working, because it’s her favorite thing to work on now…even more so than Supta Kurmasana…


    Your armpits

  5. Well I’m glad the bed hang has taken off. I’m pretty sure I blogged about it in the summer but no idea where it is so… my way is just to do what feels good. But I always start with just the head hanging over and move down very gradually. As you move down one vertebra at a time you have to pick yourself up and sort of stretch out the back so it keeps lengthening as you go over. Whilst I’m very fussy about foot placement during practice, on the bed I don’t worry about the legs at all. The position of the pelvis is stabilised. I let my arms hang down and slowly wave them through the whole range of motion and just spend extra time where it’s juicy. I used to like to take my hands on my thighs and reach for the toes too, that’s good for stretching out the platysma (interesting large sheet of fascia covering the chest) but don’t seem to need that much any more. Hands over ears is good.. relax the arms and let them add to the weight of the head, giving extra gentle stretch to the neck. Then hands down in UD/kapo B type set up, and now bring those elbows RIGHT in, in line with hands and shoulders. Then it’s nice to twist from there, pushing into the right hand to straighten the arm and turning the head left. Oh, and holding the elbows letting the arms hang as a unit is good too. I would work the whole thing and be imaginative.. it’s good to pinpoint tighter areas but I wouldn’t get obsessed with your armpits, there are a lot of interesting discoveries to be made, and openings where you might not have expected…. at least that’s been my experience. I just stumbled on the idea a couple of years ago and it has really helped me. It allows me to focus perfectly on each part of the spine.

    Re living without the exoskeleton.. I’m convinced I’ll have to do yoga forever, because if I let the muscle die away I’d melt to the floor in a puddle of loose ligaments. lol

  6. Oh, and you can do things with your head too, like curl it right back to look towards the bed kind of like setu bandhasana but hanging. That does nice things to my cervical spine.

  7. hi Karen
    all good advice. i was trying YC’s kapo-on-the-wall with Teacher yesterday. I don’t think i got the crease of the wrist to the wall thing right. Maybe I was a bit far from the wall. I should try again tomorrow for good measure. I didn’t hear any popping of the chest either when I pushed up. The push up felt good. I feel chest popping open on couch hangs.

  8. I second everything Susananda said…I do that too…full range of motion. It is a bit scary at first, so use lower weights than you might otherwise. I’m comfortable with 10 pound weights in each hand now, but you might want to start with five or eight.

  9. Arturo – if your hands are too far from the wall, then simply scootch backwards. The scootching is helpful too. And Karen and Arturo, so is walking forward and backward in a backbend, like the crab, but MUCH harder!

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