3 ways to find connection in yoga poses

April 26, 2023 0 Comments

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Recently, I have experienced progress in almost every aspect of my yoga practice. My front creases started to feel lighter. I look forward to seeing my instructors do arm balances. But in the ten years I’ve been using my yoga mat, one skill hasn’t gotten any easier: tying.

Anecdotal research tells me I’m not the only one who’s spinning around trying to hook up. A review of my yoga class shows that few have mastered the art of curling their arms behind their backs. Those around me are usually grabbing at the straps or valiantly trying to raise their fingers… to no avail. I am here with them. And to be honest, I’m pretty sure it’s because I have tiny T-rex hands.

“Tethering refers to any action where one part of the body is held by another part of the body or when two parts of the body are intertwined,” says Bentley Fazi, a yoga instructor at Alo Moves. “A pose that involves ‘tying’ is done by interlacing or joining the hands; for example, interlocking fingers or one hand holding the opposite wrist.’

Personally, as a rule, I generally ignore mandatory signals. I quietly think, “I’ll just stick with the traditional Side Angle, thanks.” On my bolder days, I might roll my shoulders a little and wiggle my fingers together feverishly. But nothing happens. No. Without cubes.

The point is that binding is an important aspect of traditional yoga practice. It is an integral part of poses such as Bird of Paradise, Cow Face Pose, and Marichyasana, and a binding option is commonly offered in Spin Lunge and Yoga Squat. I understand that ligaments can help open up your chest, back and shoulders. If, that is, you can move into them.

Your wingspan will determine how naturally you enter and exit bonds. If you’re short on range like me, fear not. Everyone can benefit from connecting like a bow, even if you need help.

Benefits of Binds

If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ve probably noticed that the practice becomes more difficult over time. As you increase your strength, flexibility and balance, yoga opens up new ways to play and tests your physical and mental limits. Fazi says the bindings are just another way to explore on the mat.

“Banding offers an additional way to approach and explore both alignment and depth in a pose,” she explains. “Tethering can encourage you to self-align in a pose and ultimately allow you to experience the pose in a different, new, or deeper way.” For example, in cow face pose, connecting the hands behind the upper back straightens and lengthens the spine, extending the posture beyond a deep hip stretch.

Binds has even more to offer. They also promote mobility and flexibility in the shoulders, back and chest, all three of which are useful in the desk-based age.

Psychologically speaking, bindis are believed to calm the body and teach the value of breathing through discomfort. Some believe that hookups inspire deeper connections and relationships outside of the mat.

But the benefits, as with most things in life worth experiencing, cannot be rushed. “Adding bindings to your practice should happen gradually over time,” says Fazi. “Never force or press the connection. The binding mechanics change depending on the posture in which it is explored, so let each variation bring you a new experience and range of binding.”

3 tips for binding

Here, Fazi offers tips and tricks on how to achieve the binding experience, even if you’re working with tiny hands.

1. Warm up properly

If you’ve been sitting at a desk all day, give your shoulders a bit of a break before you begin your binding practice. Fazi recommends doing less intense moves like Sun Salutations, Cat and Cow, Puppy Pose, and Thread the Needle before tying your body into knots. You can even floss your shoulders if you feel your upper body needs extra time to relax.

2. Know the difference between internal and external rotation

Many holds require both internal and external rotation of the shoulders, Fazi explains. This means that one shoulder will turn towards the heart and the other will turn away from the heart. For example, in the cow face pose, the lower hand turns inward, and the upper hand turns outward.

Knowing what type of rotation the binding requires will help you know which poses can help you properly warm up and move into the binding safely, so you don’t pull a muscle or strain your shoulders. It will also help you notice your body’s inherent strengths and weaknesses. You may find that your right shoulder is not as comfortable with external rotation as your left. In this case, you may want to spend more time in cow face, right elbow up.

3. Close the gap with a strap

“Those who are new to tying or have ‘shorter’ arms may find there is quite a bit of room between the arms, especially when they hug the body,” says Fazi. “To ‘bridge the gap’ on its own, a yoga strap, short towel or even a belt is the perfect prop to use to bridge the gap.”

Adding these tools to your practice will help you become familiar with the feeling of shoulder binding. Alternatively, you can slowly bring your fingers together to deepen the asana and improve your flexibility and mobility in the pose.

3 yoga poses with ligaments

You are ready to try some common yoga poses that ask you to connect. As with everything in yoga, there is no rush. Work on bonding, don’t force it.

A man sits on the floor, stretching his shoulders and hips in a yoga pose known as Cow Face Pose (Garudasana)
(Photo: Andrew Clarke)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Begin by sitting with both legs straight out in front of you. Bring the right leg to the outer part of the left thigh. Place your right leg on top so that your knees are more or less on top of each other and your left foot is next to your right thigh. Make sure both of your sit bones are flat on the ground. If not, try placing a blanket under your hips or placing a block under the hip that is extending.

Once you are comfortable, raise your right hand to your right shoulder to pat yourself on the back. This will naturally cause you to externally rotate your shoulder. Run your hand between the shoulder blades as long as possible. If you already know you will need a belt, keep the belt in your right hand.

Place your left hand behind your back and feel your shoulder rotate internally. With your palm facing outwards, slowly raise your left hand toward your right hand or strap. Relax your shoulders and feel the opening in your chest.

To come out of the pose, gently release both arms and legs. Return to staff pose and switch sides.

Two women in side-angle pose with clasped hands
(Photo: Getty Images)

Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana (Linked Side Angle Pose)

Begin standing in front of your mat with your arms at your sides in Tadasana.

Step your left leg back and bend your foot horizontally toward the short side of the mat. Your front heel should line up with the arch of your back foot. Bend your right knee until it is directly over your right ankle. Balance your weight evenly between your legs.

Raise your hands to shoulder height, palms down. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and get into Warrior Pose 2. Lower your right forearm to your right thigh and extend your left arm by your ear. After a few breaths, slide your right hand onto the block or floor.

Bend the left elbow, extend the hand behind the back, the palm looks away from you in external rotation. Stay here for a half bind or, for a full bind, reach your right hand under your right thigh in internal rotation. Wrap your left index finger and thumb around your right wrist or hold a belt, towel, or belt between your hands. Begin to turn your chest toward the ceiling. Breathe

To come out of the pose, gently release the ligament and untwist your arms. Step your left foot forward and return to Tadasana before repeating on the opposite side.

Susie Kinstler practices a wide-legged forward bend variation.  She clasps her hands behind her back and takes them away from her body to the ceiling.
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia)

Prasarita Padottanasana C (Wide Legs Bound Standing Forward Fold)

Begin standing in front of your mat with your arms at your sides in Tadasana. Step your left foot back about 4-5 feet. Face the long left side of the mat and point your toes slightly. Clasp your hands behind your back. Both of your shoulders will rotate outward.

Bend your knees slightly and lean forward, raising your clasped hands above your head. Relax your neck and let your head hang. Keep your knees bent as much as you need to to prevent strain on your hamstrings or back.

When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slowly rise, extend your arms, and step back into Tadasana.

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