It's true. The facial expressions I see looking back at me will, more than often, influence the direction the Activ Life yoga class takes.
The look of absolute bliss after rolling up the spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, from a standing forward fold to Mountain Pose. Or exhaling into a classic supine twist, allowing gravity to simply deepen the release in the lumbar spine on every breath. From simple body language to facial expressions, here are the top three juiciest shoulder openers my yoga students in the Cayman Islands have experienced in the last week as voted by them.
Start in a standing position, feet hip-width apart, and soft bend in the knees. Holding onto a strap with both hands, move your grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale, and raise the strap above your head. This is your chance to widen your grip even further if required, as you begin to lower your arms behind you, back to the body. Awareness is key to avoid your shoulders crying out for help. You want to feel a deep openness in the shoulders and energy in your thoracic spine, without over extending. Inhale to bring the strap back up and overhead, exhale to lower down in front of you. Let's repeat a second time, however on this lift, hold you arms in the sweet spot where you find ultimate openness as you begin to lower your arms back behind you. Breathe deeply here, using every exhalation to release any tightness or tension hanging on for dear life. After several breathes, lower the strap down. Inhale to raise the strap above your head, and exhale to bring the strap back down in front to complete the set.
Now come over to a wall. Step your feet about one foot away, and walk your hands up the wall until your chest and chin connects, gazing up to the sky. Extend through the fingertips, and fold slightly at the hips to deepen the length in the spine. The more you can flatten your body against the wall, the deeper the stretch will be in your shoulders and chest. A new juicy take on the classic Puppy Pose using the wall.
I can't help it. It's an instant reaction. As soon as I walk into a yoga class, I immediately take a yoga block and melt over it in Supported Fish Pose. This is an incredible extension for the thoracic spine, and opening for the shoulders, chest and throat. To make it even yummier, you can place a block or blanket under your head for additional support for the neck. Make sure you can squeeze the block in between the shoulder blades. Keep your knees bent for lower back support, or straighten them completely if it feels good. For ultimate shoulder juiciness, reach the arms overhead and hold onto opposite elbows. Imagine you're butter melting in the sun, and use your long exhalations to get rid of even the toughest knots. You can also give the unsupported version of Fish Pose a go, as I am demonstrating in the photo, without the block. Bring your palms underneath your glutes, tuck the chin in, lift up onto your elbows, and then if the neck feels good, allow your head to relax back as you puff your chest higher to the stars.
So there you have it. The three juiciest shoulder openers this week as experienced in our ever-changing Activ Life yoga classes as led by our students facial expressions.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: How to use yoga props effectively and 5 yoga poses to make you feel alive.