Yoga arms

In the San Francisco Bay Area, Funky Door Yoga (a Bikram joint), used to use the slogan, “A regular yoga practice gives you a great butt.” (Note: I just checked the website and it now states, “A regular yoga practice gives you great legs.”) Yes, we’ve all heard about the yoga butt, yoga abs, yoga toes.

But what about yoga arms? No, I’m not talkin’ about sinewy muscles but arm position. In Iyengar yoga, teachers emphasize classic yoga arms: straight but not stiff (including wrists and fingers). If tight shoulders prevent you from raising your arms straight and parallel, in line with the ears, just separate them into a “v” shape. This ain’t ballet!

I assumed that all yoga lineages followed the straight-arm rule, until my recent adventures at the mega studio. There, some teachers were Iyengar acceptable, but others (with otherwise decent asana practices) consistently flouted this rule.

Some softly flexed their elbows. Others (and this offshoot amused me to no end!) kept their elbows straight but cocked their wrists and splayed their fingers in a dramatic flamenco-rivaling gesture. This is the closest image I could find.

Whassup with that?


  1. hah. well i personally attended a class where the instructor “demanded” that we keep our arms straight straight and fingers together. I hated it. Personally I adore having my fingers splayed- feeling the energy radiate out of my arms and Self. It feels beautiful and strong.

    I’ve also attended an anusara class where the instructor encouraged us to open our arms more to the side, like we were welcoming something- and it was a bit strange, but not an unpleasant feeling. It felt much more vulnerable… which i think is the point.

    honestly, I prefer when I can do what feels right with my arms, (while maintaining the shoulders down basics with alignment). then my practice feels more like *me*. 🙂


    1. I agree that space between the fingers feels open and vital (and never press my fingers flush together). And I agree that a “v” shape from shoulders to fingertips is an ideal modification (everyone can straighten their arms when angled wide). And I even agree that personal touches here and there can be fine (especially if the practitioner follows basic alignment, as you do).

      But “ballet arms” (which look and feel closed and hunched) are indicating tight muscles. If one settles for rounded shoulders and arms, they will always remain that way. And isn’t it energizing to elongate the arms? The “flamenco hands” are impossible to describe (the photo is actually less dramatic than what I’ve seen!). Again, I sensed that they were held that way to camouflage underlying hindrances.

      To me, the clean lines of classic yoga keep us honest. No swirls and flourishes to hide behind.


  2. The straight arms with fingers interlaced require the opening of chest pit and arm pit, recruiting the large muscles of the back, using the rotator cuffs to… well, rotate, stretching across the pecs, etc.

    There is a lot that goes into what looks like a simple action.

    You can do whatever you want, as long as you’re clear on the options available and your own choice. For the longest time, I didn’t know I had these options, I simply mimicked what the instructor did without questioning why and how.


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