For many people, Upward Salute — Urdhva Hastasana (OORD-vah hahs-TAHS-uh-nuh) — is a natural way to stretch the whole body, often done automatically after sleeping or sitting for long periods. Standing up and reaching the arms overhead awakens the body from toes to fingertips, providing a boost of energy. It’s a simple way to feel rejuvenated!
The name comes from the Sanskrit words "urdhva" (meaning "upward"), "hasta" (meaning "hand"), and "asana" (meaning "pose"). Within this pose is the basic alignment and movement for inversions, such as Downward-Facing Dog and Handstand; and for deep backbends, such as Upward Bow/Wheel Pose.
The foundation of Urdhva Hastasana is Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Therefore, it is sometimes referred to as "Mountain Pose with Arms Overhead," or "Utthita Hasta in Tadasana" (which translates as "extended hands in Mountain Pose"). It’s important to learn the alignment of Tadasana before reaching the arms overhead. So, be sure to check out the iSport guide How to Do Mountain Pose in Yoga for detailed instructions and alignment tips.
Benefits of Upward Salute
Urdhva Hastasana stretches the sides of the body, spine, shoulders, armpits, and belly. It tones the thighs, improves digestion, and helps to relieve anxiety and fatigue. It also helps to create space in the chest and lungs, which is therapeutic for asthma and congestion.
A vital part of Sun Salutations and many other warm-up sequences, Urdhva Hastasana properly aligns the spinal column. This helps to protect the spinal muscles and nerves during other movements. By creating space between the vertebrae, the pose improves posture and helps to prepare the spine for deeper stretches and twists.
You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.
Those with shoulder or neck injuries should avoid fully raising their arms overhead. Instead, practice Mountain Pose or a gentler arm variation (see "Modifications & Variations" below). Also, never turn your gaze upwards if it hurts your neck or if you become lightheaded or dizzy (in step 10). Instead, continue to gaze forward at the horizon. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.
- Begin in Tadasana, standing with your feet together and your arms at your sides. Press your weight evenly across the balls and arches of your feet. If you have trouble balancing, stand with your feet six inches apart (or wider).
- Draw down through your heels and straighten your legs. Press down across all four corners of both feet. Then, lift your ankles and the arches of your feet. Squeeze your outer shins toward each other.
- Engage your quadriceps, drawing the tops of your thighs up and back. Rotate your thighs slightly inward, widening your sit bones.
- Tuck your tailbone slightly, without rounding your lower back. Bring your pelvis to its neutral position and keep your hips even with the center line of your body. Slightly draw your belly in.
- Broaden across your collarbones. Elongate your neck. Release your shoulder blades away from your head and toward the back of your waist.
- Your ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one line. Turn your arms so your palms face forward, fingers reaching toward the floor. This is Tadasana.
- As you inhale, sweep your arms out to the side and then up overhead, turning your arms so your palms face each other, fingertips reaching toward the ceiling. Straighten your arms completely, but do not lock the elbow joints.
- If your shoulders are tight, keep your arms as wide as your shoulders (or even wider). If you can keep your arms straight without drawing your shoulders up, press your palms together.
- Soften the tops of your shoulders away from your ears. Relax your shoulder blades down your back, toward your waist. Draw your lower, front ribs in — do not let these ribs push forward. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor. Keep your collarbones wide.
- Tilt your head back gently and gaze up at your thumbs.
- Maintain the alignment of Tadasana: Ears, shoulders, hips, and ankles in one line.
- Breathe smoothly and deeply. Imagine your breath is moving across the entire length of your body. Lift up through the sides of your waist as you inhale. Soften your shoulders as you exhale.
- Hold the pose for up to one minute. To release, exhale and sweep the arms back down to the sides of the body. If you are performing a Sun Salutation, fold at the hips and come directly into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana).
Modifications & Variations
Urdhva Hastasana can be a great full body stretch for both beginners and advanced students. Try these simple changes to adapt the pose to your current abilities:
- If it’s difficult to balance with your feet together, stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Gradually step your feet closer together as you gain balance in the pose.
- Women who are pregnant should widen their stances as much as necessary to feel stable.
- To learn how to straighten your raised arms without stressing your shoulders, loop and secure a yoga strap around your upper arms, just above the elbows. Press your outer, upper arms against the strap as you soften your shoulders and neck.
- For more of a challenge with balance and spinal strength, reach your arms forward instead of sweeping them out to the sides. Keep both arms parallel to each other with the palms facing inward. As you inhale, raise them in front of you and then overhead.
- For a deeper side stretch when your arms are overhead, clasp your right wrist with your left hand. Gently bend to the left, keeping your torso facing forward. Draw your right shoulder back, opening the armpit. Come back to the center and repeat on the other side.
- For a deeper stretch to your upper body, interlock your thumbs when your arms are overhead. Exhale as you gently draw your arms back, creating a slight backbend in your upper spine.
Since Urdhva Hastasana provides the foundation for inversions and backbends, it’s important to learn the correct alignment early in your practice. This can be difficult if your shoulders are tight or if your balance is uneven. Keep these tips in mind when practicing the pose:
- Maintain the alignment of Tadasana throughout the pose. Thoroughly review the instructions for Tadasana before practicing Urdhva Hastasana.
- Keep your shoulders over your hips, and your hips in line with your ankles.
- Do not let your lower, front ribs poke forward. Draw them in and slightly down toward your belly. You may need to lower your arms to make this possible. If you do, that’s fine. It is more important to keep the alignment of your spine and ribs than to reach your arms very high.
- Only press your palms together while your arms are overhead if you can keep your arms straight without drawing your shoulders up or letting your ribs poke forward.
- If it’s difficult to straighten your arms when they’re overhead, bring your arms farther apart — shoulder-distance or wider. Stretch from your inner elbows to your palms to straighten the arms, and then extend through your fingertips.
- Beginners can practice the pose backed up against a wall. There will be a slight curve in your lower back, but your heels, buttocks, and shoulders should gently touch the wall. Keep your head away from the wall, with your ears in line with your shoulders.
Stretch & Grow
You can practice Urdhva Hastasana throughout your day, whenever you need a full body stretch! By practicing it often, you’ll gain a better understanding of the alignment and movements of the pose — from which you can gain the confidence you’ll need to move into more advanced poses, like inversions and backbends. This seemingly simple pose can provide balance and grace both on and off the mat.