Lift Your Armpit Chest: Yoga Instruction for Beautiful Posture Relieves Back Pain

I went to New York for New Year’s, and while I was there I took a few yoga classes at my favorite yoga studio: the NY Iyengar Center. They had re-done it since I’d last visited a few years ago, and it is beautiful. What a treat to take classes there. Quite a different experiences from when I was a regular student there, some years back.

I heard an instruction in all the classes I took there, which I have not heard in a long-time: “Lift your armpit chest”. This is a regular instruction you hear oft repeated in all the beginner classes there, that I had forgotten. It reminded me of a crucial step in maintaining back health: posture.

When Iyengar instructors say “Lift your armpit chest”, they are referring to the area of the upper ribcage, just under the armpit (axilla), about 3″ down, or where a tank top armhole opening would be. When one lifts this area, the sternum automatically lifts, followed by the collar bones.

In fact I once took a class there with Mary Dunn (recently deceased) who spent an entire class (or what seemed to be) in tadasana (tree or mountain pose) focusing on lifting the collarbone and rolling it up, like the top of a sardine can.

When the sternum and collarbones lift, the scapular area (shoulder blades) draw down towards the waist, and in toward the lungs and front body. Now one has a fully erect spine, and beautiful posture.

Since taking these classes, I have continued to remind myself of ‘lifting the armpit chest’ whenever i catch myself slumping forward: working at my desk, driving, cooking – any activity. I’m finding that by maintaining more optimal posture I have less back fatigue and tension, and consequently more energy. What a way to begin the new year 🙂 KB

Photo: Oleg Klementiev oObsessed, flickr Creative Commons 2.0