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At the beginning of class, many yoga teachers suggest that students have a strap nearby, “in case they need it.” The subtext is: if you’re not flexible, use a strap as an extension of your arms or legs. Yes, yoga straps offer valuable benefits for those with limited flexibility, but knowing how to use a yoga strap in your practice can also be a great tool for building strength and accessing often-overlooked muscles.
This sequence illustrates some energizing options for incorporating a yoga strap into your vinyasa flow and focuses on increasing mobility in the spine and shoulders. Knowing how to use a yoga strap also increases muscular resistance throughout the core and in the arms, which can improve strength, alignment, and range of motion throughout your entire body.
Begin by standing tall with your feet about two feet apart for a strong, supportive base. Grasp the strap with both hands at chest height, about one-and-a-half-times wider than your shoulders. Reach the strap overhead with straight elbows, keeping the strap taut. Feel the resistance of the strap between both hands and engage your arm muscles, especially your triceps. Stay in this position for 3-5 breaths.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Maintain tension in the strap as you lean into a right side bend. Hold it taut between your hands and keep your top arm engaged as you extend to the right side. Hold for one breath cycle. Return to center and side-bend to the left. Repeat 3-5 times.
For the twist, continue to pull the strap tight between your hands. Twist your torso to the right, keeping your hips squared and stable. Hold for one breath cycle. Return to center and twist to the left for another breath cycle. Repeat 3-5 times.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
From Tadasana with the arms lifted, step your right foot back, grounding through the outer edge of your foot. Press upward with your arms as you bend your left knee into Warrior I pose. To avoid straining your shoulder joints, keep your arms in line with your ears; be sure not to overextend your arms behind your head. Stay in this pose for 3 breath cycles.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
From Warrior I, bend to the left, reaching out to the left to stretch through your right side. Maintain tension in the strap with your right hand to counteract the pull of your left hand. Use the taut strap to help you stretch to lengthen both sides. Stay here for 2-3 breath cycles. Return to Warrior I.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Stand in Warrior I with the strap overhead. Rotate your torso to the left, maintaining the engagement of the strap between your hands. Just as in Tadasana, initiate the twist from your spine, not your hips. Your pelvis should remain fairly squared to the front of the mat. Stay here for 2-3 breaths. Your arms are definitely feeling this now! Feel free to rest your hands down for a few breaths before moving into the next pose.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Here’s where it really gets fun. (As if you weren’t having fun already!) From Warrior I, pivot on your right heel and turn your body to face the long side of the mat for Warrior II. Keeping the strap taut, bend at the waist to lower your right hand toward your extended right leg. Allow this leverage to lift your left hand toward the sky. Use the resistance of the strap to elongate both sides of your waist, making space for your breath. Stay for 2-3 breaths. Return to Warrior II(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
From Warrior II, with your arms overhead and your strap stretched between your hands, reach your left hand toward the front of your mat. Hinging at the hips, lower your left hand down toward the inside of your left knee. Use your top (right) hand to create tension in the strap and increase your side stretch. Turn your gaze up, forward, or down. Stay for 2-3 breaths. Return to Warrior II(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Challenge pose! From Warrior II, pivot on the ball of your right foot, and rotate your torso and hips toward the front of your mat. Shift your weight onto your left leg. Lift your right foot off the ground while flexing forward over your left leg. Reach your arms forward, lower your torso, and raise your right leg to hip height. Pull strap tight between your hands. Stay here for 1-2 breath cycles.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Step back from Warrior III into Crescent Lunge. Stretch your arms up to the sky and lift your heart up. If your shoulders feel unrestricted, reach the strap overhead and back toward your buttocks. This may require you to widen or adjust your hand placement. Stay here for 2-3 breaths.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
With your arms still behind you, bend at the hips to dip your chest forward. Reach your arms to the sky for a deeper chest stretch. If you prefer, you can let go of the strap altogether and lower your hands to the ground. Stay here for 2-3 breaths.(Photo: Courtesy of Ingrid Yang)
Set the strap aside. Bring your right foot forward, place both hands on your mat and lower to your knees. Press your hips back to rest in Child’s Pose before you repeat this sequence on the other side.
Once you are comfortable using the strap in a vinyasa flow, you may decide to practice this sequence by moving through each posture with one breath. To cool down after this heat-building vinyasa sequence, try Rocky Heron’s restorative sequence with a strap.