It is very possible to build upper body strength in yoga. Due to the muscle engagement while holding certain postures, you can develop stamina, energy, and strength in your upper body.
Here are the top 3 upper body yoga poses you should practice.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a very familiar yoga pose that you would practice during a Sun Salutation sequence.
In a classic yoga flow, you may hold this posture for about five breaths before moving into the next pose. But if you hold this posture longer, perhaps 10 to 20 breaths, you will gain the benefits of a more fit and strong upper body.
Downward Facing Dog essentially is an inverted yoga position that targets the shoulders, triceps, chest, and trapezius muscles. Here is how to practice this pose:
Start by coming to your hands and knees on your yoga mat. Spread out your fingers to create a wide base of stability. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart to begin. Tuck your toes under; and with an exhale to engage your core, lift your knees and hips into the air. You will form an inverted V-shape with your body. Your hips will be the highest point while your toes and hands remain on the ground.
Keep a good pressure of your hands pressing into your yoga mat. This will provide energy to your shoulders and arms. Be sure that your arms remain straight; this will maximize the contraction of your tricep muscles to hold you steady. Because you will be upside down in Downward Dog, your shoulders and traps will automatically engage to help you stay in place.
Put a slight bend in your knees so you can lift your hips a little higher. This will help to maintain an elongated torso and keep the arms straight. Another important element of holding Downward Facing Dog is engaging your abdominal muscles. When you exhale, draw your navel inward toward your spine. This creates what is called the abdominal lock in yoga; it gives you power, energy, and strength in most yoga positions.
After holding this posture for about 10 to 20 breaths, come back down to your hands and knees to rest.
Plank upper body yoga pose
Start this posture on your hands and knees. While spreading your fingers, plant your palms firmly into your yoga mat with your shoulders aligned over your wrists. Lift your knees off the mat and form a long plank-like position with your body. It will resemble a high push-up position. Hold this posture for at least 20 breaths. As you inhale, feel the energy move through your body to keep your body long and extended. As you exhale, continue to draw your navel toward your spine to engage the abdominal lock. Another way to stabilize this posture is to feel your inner arms hug inward toward each other. You will build endurance strength while holding this position since the small muscle fibers of your arms, chest, and shoulders are highly stimulated in this static hold. After holding the posture, give yourself a rest. Feel free to repeat this posture 2 or 3 more times for a full upper body yoga workout.
To add an intensity to this position, you can do this Plank Pose on your forearms. This will engage your shoulders and your abdominal muscles more. When holding this position, remember to bear down into the yoga mat with your forearms to maintain stability in the upper body. Breath is also key in holding this yoga pose variation. Be fully aware of your abdominal system as you exhale to create the core engagement.
Side Plank upper body yoga poses
This is another variation of the Plank Pose. In a sideways position, it triggers more muscle engagement in your shoulders and obliques. You can start this posture in Plank Pose. From here, turn your body sideways keeping one hand on the mat while the other extends into the air. Your legs will stack one on top of the other; your body will be turned completely sideways.
Ensure that your shoulder of the stabilizing arm is aligned over the wrist. This will provide the best structure for your upper body. Reach into the air with the opposite arm to create a sustainable lift, too. Flex your feet to keep your legs engaged in this position. Lift your hip bone toward the ceiling, also, so that your pose does not collapse to the ground. Again, breath is essential to hold this yoga posture. As you inhale, feel the lengthened and extended body. As you exhale, engage your abdominal muscles to remain braced in this dynamic posture. After about 10 breaths, practice the pose on the other side.
Practice these highly effective upper body yoga poses on their own to build strength, endurance, stamina, and energy in your upper body. Monitor and track your progress. Perform these poses 3-5 times per week. Notice the shifts and changes in your body after each week of consistent yoga practice.