Be Mindful of Your Mouth

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Alignment Cues Decoded: “Straighten Your Elbows!”

Originally posted by Yoga Journal on October 22, 2014

I realized not long ago (while repeatedly reminding my students to “straighten their elbows!”) that most of them have very little idea of why teachers make the choices they do for a class. I was acting a little like the Wizard of Oz, making demands from behind the all-knowing curtain, with no explanation as to why. But there’s a benefit to knowing the method behind what might sometimes seem like madness.

I sequence in a very methodical way. It’s like a puzzle to me. Every single pose within my classes is there for a reason, to teach the exact efforts needed to eventually achieve the peak pose of the class. Of course, it doesn’t mean everyone will flawlessly execute it that day, but they will have all the information they could ever need to accomplish it in the future—if they choose to do that work. This blog aims to pull back the curtain and explain the what, when, and why bother behind key actions yoga students may not be sure why they’re learning.

Be Mindful of Your Mouth

“Straighten Your Elbows!”

The day I was hammering my students about straightening their elbows, over and over I repeated the instructions and still half the class wasn’t doing it. I was leading to Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). It’s one of the most sought-after poses these days, and it’s incredibly rewarding when such an elusive pose finally becomes possible. I’ve written articles about it (like 7 Steps to Defy Gravity and Master Handstand) and taught countless students to do it, but it wasn’t till that day that it dawned on me that I could better help them get there if I explained the how and why. I said, “Straighten your elbows! Bent elbows make a very sad Handstand for your face. If you want to keep your face safe, I suggest you learn to straighten them here where you aren’t risking a face plant.” They laughed. And then I saw the lightbulbs come on—and the elbows straighten!

AlexCrowHandstand

Alignment Cue:
“Straighten your elbows!”

It’s not easy to bring your arms overhead with straight elbows and to keep the shoulders properly aligned. Why? Because we spend most of our days with our elbows bent and our arms hanging down at our sides. Because it’s hard, most people let their arms become an afterthought in standing poses and Sun Salutations.

Key Yoga Poses:
ALL poses with arms raised overhead

That means standing, reclining, seated, and upside down. Think poses like High/Crescent Lunge, Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III)Chair Pose (Utkatasana),….

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