Yoga

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Yoga In Bed

Yoga Poses You Can Do Without Leaving Your Bed

 Good news for yogis and sleep-enthusiasts alike: You can take your practice to bed.

And there is good reason to do so: The ancient practice of yoga promotes a bounty of mind and body benefits, including things like strength and flexibility, stress relief and even a sunnier disposition.

“People underestimate the power of those few minutes before we get out of bed and rush into our day,” says Vyda Bielkus, co-founder of Boston’s HealthYoga Life,  “In those moments, we can set up some clear intentions and choices.”

According to a 2014 survey, most of us aren’t giving ourselves this moment to be mindful: 89 percent of 19-24-year-old smartphone owners reach for their cell within 15 minutes of waking up. Swapping that phone-checking habit for a a few artful stretches could be your ticket for a better day or a more restful slumber (63 percent of  a similar demographic take their devices to sleep with them). “Quieting the mind brings us back to center,” the yoga instructor says. “Yoga is a great way to unwind from stress or greet the day.”

Before you get moving atop the covers, there are few things to keep in mind. Know that you won’t be able to go as far in a posture on the bed. A floor’s hard surface offers more support and resistance for stretch. And, take note of the sensations in your body: If anything hurts or feels too intense, plop yourself into child’s pose (see below) to recover. Now, check out these nine, mattress-approved poses below.

Reclining Goddess Pose

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Lie with the soles of your feet touching. You can keep your arms by your side or stretch your hands above your head — whatever feels best. Bielkus says this is a good pose to do before you go to sleep — it’ll settle the mind and help you unwind.

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose

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This is an especially soothing meditative posture, one that Bieklus calls a “time out for adults.” “Doing this inversion will ease tension in your legs,” says the yoga instructor, who recommends the pose or anyone who’s active on their feet all day or may have over done it at the gym. Turn your hips toward the wall and kick your legs up and lean rest them vertically against it. “People who have a hard time meditating may find this as an easier way to clear their minds,”

Bieklus adds. Tight hips? Put a pillow under your seat to ease any discomfort.

Forward Bend

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Sit up on your bed and fold forward, reaching for your heels, toes or shins. “Wherever your hands land is fine,” Bielkus says. If you feel tight in the backs of your legs, be sure to bend your knees. This move is great for winding down: It is relaxing and cooling. Be sure to focus on your exhale — it’ll deepen the stretch.

Easy Supine Twist

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Try this move before you get out of bed in the morning: It’ll awaken your spine and prepare you for the day ahead. While on your back, hug your knees to your chest. Hold your legs behind the knees with your right forearm and bring your knees to the bed on your right side. Now, gently look left. Repeat on your other side.

Fish Pose

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While lying flat on your back, bring your hands underneath your hips. Lift your chest and heart above your shoulders and stretch your head back. Bielkus says this pose is energizing, so do it as the sun comes up.

 

Happy Baby Pose

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This pose is mentally calming while physically stimulating, which makes it perfect for a day when you have a lot on your plate. Lie flat on your back with your feet in the air and grip the outside of your feet with your hands. Open your knees a little wider than your torso, then bring them up toward your torso. Gently rock in a way that feels comfortable, while pushing your feet into your hands as you pull your hands down to create a resistance. “Find a still point in your body and focus on driving the rail bone down,” Bielkus says. “This will elongate the lower back and allow the hips to stretch. It gets the blood flowing.”

Child’s Pose

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This simple, calming pose is easy to do in bed. Kneel on the mattress and allow your big toes to touch. Separate your knees as wide as your hips (or as far as is comfortable) and lie down between your thighs. Stay here as long as you like — this pose is restorative

Corpse Pose

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This pose may look like sleeping, but it’s really a practice, as Bielkus describes, of consciously resting. “This is an awesome state for the mind to be in. It’s about awakening within the self.” Lie on your back with your arms by your side, with the palms facing upward. “This is when you come out of your human doing and come into your human being,” the instructor says. “It’s about fully being present.” This pose is quite versatile: Do it as a wind-down before bed to empty your thoughts so they don’t keep you up or night, or use the time in the morning to set an intention for the day ahead.

Pigeon Pose

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Pigeon pose is an intense leg stretch that’ll open your hips and leave you feeling revitalized. With your hands shoulder-distance apart, come onto all fours. Bring your right knee forward between your hands so your outer right leg is resting on the bed. Make sure your left leg is in line with its own hip socket and that your left foot is laying flat. With an exhale, fold forward over your right knee. Stay here for as long as you need, then repeat on the other side.

By Kate Bratskeir for the Huffington Post

 

 

 

 

Tips to Improve Your Downward Dog

 

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It’s got to be the most recognised of all yoga poses, right? Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog appears in most styles of yoga as either a strengthening pose, a transition pose or a resting pose. Getting the alignment right is not only important for your anatomy, it also helps you to love this pose.

For some people whenever the teacher asks you to “rest” in Downward Dog it doesn’t feel anything like a “rest”.  A form of scoliosis combined with an extremely tight psoas and hamstrings mean that often there is a pronounced bulge in the  lower thoracic spine in Downward Dog and for  others it  may be their wrists,  particularly in the morning before  warming up. Don’t be fixated with placing your heels on the floor, as if that is the measuring stick, it only serves to compress the spine and create a whole lot of discomfort.
1. Hands Should Be Shoulder Distance Apart.
Spread your fingers wide and align your wrist crease to the front of the mat. Use the whole surface area of your hand including your 5 finger pads and emphasise pressing the index and thumb pads into the mat.

2. Feet Are Sit Bone/Hip Distance Apart.
Glance back and check your feet. If you can see your heels, try turning them out slightly so you can’t see them anymore.

3. Activate Your Arms.
As you press down through your wrists, feel the energy draw back up to activate your arms. Feel as though your thumbs want to draw in magnetically towards each other which will slightly rotate your forearms inwards, towards each other.

4. Upper Arms Externally Rotate.
I know it sounds tricky to internally rotate the forearms and externally rotate the upper arms, but anatomically, the arms are up for it. It’s a fairly subtle action like  imagining that you are hiding your underarms from the person on the next mat. This will also keep your shoulders away from your ears, giving more space in the neck.

5. Neck And Head Continue Along The Same Line As The Spine.
It’s super important to be aware of where your head and neck are in space in any yoga pose, this one is no exception. The neck is part of the spine, so it should follow the same natural line. In a person with text book alignment, the head will be between the upper arms—but of course, exact placement of the neck will depend on your specific anatomy. The key thing to be mindful of is that you’re neither letting the head just ‘hang,’ nor crunching the neck too far up.

6. Firm Shoulder Blades And Broaden Across The Upper Back.
Loads of yogis scrunch up through the tops of the shoulders and around the neck in this pose, which can create even more tension and make it really uncomfortable. By firming the shoulder blades and feeling them draw down towards the tail and broadening across the upper back, you can provide space as well as stability.
7. Engage The Lower Belly By Drawing The Navel In Towards The Spine.
A firm core is key and can help to take some weight out of the shoulders and wrists, and back into the legs. Draw the lower ribs in and keep this core activation going throughout the pose. 

8. Bend Knees A Little (Or A Lot) And Send The Sit Bones And Tail Bone Up And Back.

Feel the difference this makes in your spine. If you have tight hamstrings, for the sake of your back you are far better to practice this pose with bent knees rather than force the heels down and compromise length in the spine.  Let your focus be spine first, heels down second (check out the photos above to see the comparison).

9. Inner Thighs Rotate Inwards As You Firm The Outer Thighs.
Do this, and notice how much easier it becomes to lift the sit bones up and back.
10. Straighten Legs Without Changing The Shape In The Spine Or Pelvis.
Once you’ve reached this point, you can start to lengthen the heels back. Perhaps they reach the floor, perhaps they don’t. One of the great benefits of this pose is lengthening out through the legs, but by prioritising the heels down last,  you may enjoy a much better experience in your spine, which should always take priority.
When the muscles in the backs of the legs are ready to lengthen, they’ll lengthen. Be patient and embrace your point in the journey.

These are general tips, which means they don’t take into account any specific injuries or conditions. As an example, if you have a wrist injury you may need to modify to the forearms (Dolphin) or try this pose against a wall. If you do have any specific conditions then ask your yoga teacher in person about modifications suitable for your totally unique self.

~ Erin Motz

10 Yoga Poses For Men

 

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Dudes, this one’s for you. Yoga is not just for women. You Y-chromosome carriers can reap some huge rewards by getting on a yoga mat and getting your body moving. In fact, men may benefit even more from certain yoga postures than women, thanks to the larger and tighter muscles men generally boast.

If the idea of propping yourself up in a backbend or twisting and binding is a little too intimidating, fear not. You can still experience asanas galore that open the legs, hips, chest and shoulders and even some that help build muscle throughout the body. Try these 10 to get you started.

1. Standing Forward Fold

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Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, opens the back of the legs, the hips and the back. Making this pose even more appealing for non-bendy men is that it’s easily modified. If you can’t reach the floor, keep your hands on your thighs, calves or ankles or use blocks to shorten the distance.
In addition to stretching muscles, Standing Forward Fold lowers blood pressure, eases headaches, improves circulation and helps you sleep better. And if you allow gravity to do its job in this pose and relax your head and neck, you can also reduce the tension you carry in your upper body.

2. Warrior One

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This iconic posture stretches men where they need it most—the hips and shoulders. On top of opening these tight areas, Virabhadrasana is a strengthening posture. It builds the muscle of the thighs along with the areas around the knees, which means more stability and protection for sensitive joints during high impact sports.
Want more powerful shoulders? Try holding this pose for 10-15 breaths and you’ll never again question whether yoga is physically challenging.

3. Chair Pose

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Back to that question about whether yoga is physically demanding for tough guys?
Chair pose, or Utkatasana, may bring even the macho-est man to tears. Chair pose works the quads, ankles, butt and shoulders, while also opening the chest—helping you develop greater stability. It’s also useful for improving flat feet and stimulating the abdominal organs.

4. Downward Facing Dog

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It’s the pose that just makes you say aaaah. Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, brings the attention to all of those tight areas that challenge men—the hamstrings, calves, arms, shoulders, back, hips and more. And while it stretches the body, Down Dog also strengthens the arms and legs.
Perhaps even more important for men is what Downward Facing Dog does for the heart. This amazing asana strengthens the heart as it improves circulation, reduces stress and helps high blood pressure.

5. Upward Facing Dog

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The other dog posture, Urdvha Mukha Svansana, can help to open the chest and strengthen the back and arms. This posture will help anyone who sits behind a desk or a wheel for far too many hours each day by opening the abdomen and hip flexors.
For men who also enjoy more strenuous forms of exercise, Upward Facing Dog is a great way to warm up and get the muscles stretched and blood flowing before expecting the body to go all out.
Up Dog also helps anyone struggling with breathing difficulties.

6. Boat Pose

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Another amazing strengthening posture, Boat pose, or Navasana, will give you rock hard abs as it also strengthens the hips flexors and spine. This posture is particularly beneficial to men for what it does to stimulate the prostate gland and even just raise awareness and reduce tension in the pelvic region.
If you’re the type of guy whose key to your heart is through your stomach, you’ll enjoy boat pose for its ability to stimulate the digestive system and keep everything moving smoothly.

7. Butterfly Pose

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Baddha Konasana increases blood flow to the pelvis, kidneys, prostate and bladder…and I don’t need to tell you what other part of your life can be helped by better blood flow to the pelvic region.
Butterfly pose is also a good way to draw attention to mula bandha, the root lock, which also brings awareness and more energy to the area around the hips. (wink, wink)

8. Half Pigeon

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Tight hips? Half Pigeon will be your best friend. This posture is a challenging one, but you can ease yourself into it as your hips open more and more. Since it’s a powerful way to open the glutes, hamstrings, adductors and hip flexors, Half Pigeon can help you when you take part in physical activities, carrying heavy objects, etc.
Once you release the tension in your hips, you’ll also feel the benefit in your lower back and other areas of your body.

9. Bridge Pose

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It’s not unusual for men to experience tight muscles throughout the torso, but Bridge pose can help open the upper body and release those tight muscles. Whether you realize it or not, tightness in this area make for shallow breathing and can even make other physical activities more challenging.
Over time, practicing bridge pose will create more space in the chest and make for easier, fuller breathing.

10. Reclining Hand To Big Toe

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Here’s another one that may be hard at first, but this posture opens the lower back to get energy moving more freely, and when it does, it also stimulates the prostate gland and improves digestion.

Women may still outnumber men in yoga studios, but the tides are changing. A growing number of men are making their way to the mat to stretch, strengthen, breathe and open. If you’ve been wanting to try it but have been slightly intimidated, try these postures at home until you’re comfortable with the idea and see how much yoga can help every aspect of your life.
From there, give yoga classes a try. Who knows, you may soon be inviting your buddies to join you for yoga class.

~Liz Rosenblum

Yoga for People Who Are Overweight or Obese

Yoga for People Who Are Overweight or Obese  (adapted from US News)

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Try a Google image search of “yoga,” and what do you notice about the people in the photos? For one, most of them are women—skinny, fit women. There’s a thin woman on the beach in warrior pose; there’s a thin woman in front of the sunset in tree pose; and hey, there’s a thin woman in the woods in lotus pose. This theme of skinny yogis isn’t wrong, and it’s hardly surprising—thin sells, especially fitness routines. But even if it’s not implicitly said, including only skinny women in yoga images and including only poses conducive to skinny bodies in teachings can make yoga, well, not so inclusive. You get to thinking that yoga and its health benefits, such as stress reduction and improved fitness, are best for thin people, and not so much for the 36 percent of U.S. adults who are obese. Not true. Yoga is for all types of shapes and sizes if you just know how to start.

I’m overweight or obese. Why do yoga?

Yoga can be a wonderful form of movement that bigger-bodied people can adapt for themselves.  For folks carrying more weight, low-impact exercises like yoga may be more comfortable than, say, running on the pavement. And most postures can be modified to fit your body.

Plus, yoga isn’t that cycling class with the drill sergeant instructor. It’s not the insanity workout. The mental component of yoga—the deep breathing, positive meditation and awareness—can boost confidence for people of all waistlines. Yoga helps give you insight, and perhaps that insight can help you make better choices and eliminate negative self-talk.

How is yoga different for people who are overweight or obese?

For bigger people heading to a beginners’ yoga class, one of the scariest parts is walking through the door.  Like the Google images, the class may be full of women who are half your size, and the pace and some of the postures may be particularly challenging for bigger bodies.

If you’re overweight or obese, you’re going to move slower, and the transition from one pose to the other takes more time.  It’s the time it takes to turn a luxury liner versus a kayak.

And some poses, like those that involve balancing on the shoulders, will not work for bigger-bodied beginners. You have to be able to observe the pose and think, ‘I’m not doing that,’ and be OK with that.

But don’t be scared off from group classes by assuming you’ll fall behind and have to sit out poses. Call or meet with the instructor before class to see if he has experience with bigger yogis. The two of you can work together to prevent pacing issues and plan modifications and alternative poses to those that will be uncomfortable. This is another part of yoga that you’re not learning on the mat, to be proactive, and to speak up and say why you’re there and what you need.  Plus if you don’t have a good experience the first time, keep trying.

 What tips can make yoga more comfortable for me?

  • Widen your stance. In many standing postures, feet are often supposed to be hip-width apart. But if you’re bigger, it may help to spread your feet farther until they’re at a comfortable distance to increase stability.
  • Know your body. If the skin of your belly, thighs, arms or breasts get in the way, grab on and move it. This type of instruction may not be written in the scripts of most traditional yoga classes, so take the initiative to make yourself more comfortable.
  • Use props. If your instructor wants you to touch your hands to your toes for a hamstring stretch, don’t respond with a sarcastic eye roll. A yoga strap can help you achieve this stretch and support you in other poses, too. And a yoga block can provide support as well, by helping you connect with the ground. Ask an instructor to demonstrate the best practices for using these props.
  • Be Positive. Yoga isn’t about competition, and it’s not about  perfection.     Use the practice as an opportunity to connect with your mind and body. Loving yourself is the only way to true health, and it makes life so much easier.”

How To Do Warrior I

 

How To Do Warrior 1

Whenever my students have a pose they absolutely cannot stand, it’s almost inevitably Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). And, for a long time, that always surprised me. Finally, one day, I really tried to break it down during my practice. Then I got it.

This is a super dynamic pose. Think about what’s happening in the body — every limb is involved and they’re all going in different directions.

The torso is extended so there may also be a small backbend going on here.

The shoulders are drawing together and down, and the gaze is lifted (either up or out).
There’s also the often-taught direction that the hips must be squared to the front of the mat — but so often, due to skeletal structure, muscle tension, and/or muscle strength, this is impossible and the effort will lead to knee pain or injury.

And if that’s all the student is focused on —squaring the hips? Well, the rest of the pose falls pretty drastically apart.

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Instead, I tell my students to have a firm foundation in the feet first. Personally, I like a wider stance here because it frees up the pelvis and gives me more space for rotation.

Stack the front knee in line with the front ankle and foot, and draw in and up on the pelvic floor, which will give you some grounding and balance. Then, use that low belly muscle lock (Uddiyana Bandha) and rotate the abdomen and rib cage around to the front of the mat. This is where we’re truly looking for that rotation. Now you have a little space to breathe.

From here, the arms extend up (I put my palms together and gaze up because that’s traditional in my Ashtanga practice, but the arms can just extend straight up or even out if you have rotator cuff issues) while the shoulder blades draw together and down.

The gaze is focused, either up or out — whatever the neck comfortably allows. The arms are also rotating inwards. Think of rolling the triceps together or of rolling the pinky-sides of the hands toward each other. This will give you so much more space in the shoulders, allowing you to spread the collarbones.

Then? Settle in. This is a beautiful asana and will build so much strength in your body, yes, but also in your mind and in your breath. Remain mindful and feel the extension — both hands, both feet, heart, belly, and chin lifted in celebration of your practice.

HOW YOGA CHANGES YOUR BODY

How Yoga Changes Your Body, Starting The Day You Begin

The Eastern practice of yoga has become a modern-day symbol of peace, serenity and well-being in the West. More than 20 million Americans practice yoga, according to the 2012 Yoga in America study, with practitioners spending more than $10 billion a year on yoga-related products and classes.

The mind-body practice is frequently touted for its ability to reduce stress and boost well-being, but it also offers wide-ranging physical health benefits that rival other forms of exercise. While the scientific research on yoga’s health benefits is still young, here’s what we know so far about its potential effects on the body.

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AFTER CLASS

Improved Brain Function.     Just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga — an ancient form of the practice that emphasizes physical postures rather than flow or sequences — can improve cognitive function, boosting focus and working memory. In a University of Illinois study, participants performed significantly better on tests of brain functioning after yoga, as compared to their performance after 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise.

Lower Stress Levels.     Yoga’s stress-busting powers may come from its ability to lessen the activity of proteins that are known to play a role in inflammation, according to a study published last year from University of California, Los Angeles researchers.

Alter Gene Expression.     A small Norwegian study suggested that yoga’s many healthy benefits might come from its ability to alter gene expression in immune cells.

Increased Flexibility.     A recent Colorado State University study found that Bikram yoga — a form of yoga in which a series of 26 postures are performed for 90 minutes in a heated room — is linked with increased shoulder, lower back and hamstring flexibility, as well as greater deadlift strength and decreased body fat, compared with a control group.

AFTER A FEW MONTHS

Lower Blood Pressure.     People with mild to moderate hypertension might benefit from a yoga practice, as a study from University of Pennsylvania researchers found that it could help to lower their blood pressure levels. Researchers found that people who practiced yoga had greater drops in blood pressure compared with those who participated in a walking/nutrition/weight counseling program.

Improved Lung Capacity.     A small 2000 Ball State University study found that practicing Hatha yoga for 15 weeks could significantly increase vital lung capacity, which is the maximum amount of air exhaled after taking a deep breath. Vital lung capacity is one of the components of lung capacity.

Improved Sexual Function.     A 2009 Harvard study published in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that yoga could boost arousal, desire, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction for women. Yoga can also improve women’s sex lives by helping them to become more familiar with their own bodies, according to a review of studies published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, as reported by CNN.

Reduced Chronic Neck Pain.    A German study published in The Journal of Pain showed that four weeks of practicing Iyengar yoga (a type of Hatha yoga that stresses proper alignment and the use of props) is effective in reducing pain intensity in adults suffering from chronic neck pain.

Anxiety Relief.     A 2010 Boston University study showed that 12 weeks of yoga could help to reduce anxiety and increase gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain (low levels of GABA have been linked with depression and anxiety disorders).

Relief from Chronic Back Pain.     Researchers at West Virginia University found Iyengar Yoga to be more effective in reducing pain and improving mood than standard medical treatment among those with chronic lower back problems.

 

Steadies Blood Sugar Levels in People with Diabetes.    Adding yoga to a typical diabetes care regimen could result in steady blood sugar levels, according to a 2011 Diabetes Care study. Reuters reported that just three months of yoga in addition to diabetes care resulted in a decrease in body mass index, as well as no increases in blood sugar levels.

Improved Sense of Balance.     Practicing an Iyengar yoga program designed for older adults was found to improve balance and help prevent falls in women over 65, according to a 2008 Temple University study.

AFTER YEARS

Stronger Bones.    A 2009 pilot study by Dr. Loren Fishman showed that practicing yoga could improve bone density among older adults.

“We did a bone mineral density (DEXA) scan, then we taught half of them the yoga, waited two years, and did another scan,” Fishman previously told The Huffington Post. “And not only did these people not lose bone, they gained bone. The ones who didn’t do the yoga lost a little bone, as you would expect.”

Healthy Weight.    Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found an association between a regular yoga practice and decreased weight — or at least a maintained weight — among more than 15,000 healthy, middle-aged adults.

“Those practicing yoga who were overweight to start with lost about five pounds during the same time period those not practicing yoga gained 14 pounds,” study researcher Alan Kristal, DPH, MPH, told WebMD.

Lower Risk Of Heart Disease.     As part of a healthy lifestyle, yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, according to Harvard Health Publications.

 

 

 

Vrksasana – Tree Pose

IMG_0861Tree Pose in the park with the squirrels and ducks.  How fun!

Tree Pose is another favorite because it builds strength in the legs, helps your balance, builds strong bones and stretches the entire torso.  Try this anywhere you feel the urge.  I did!

Ardha Chandrasana -Half moon Pose

IMG_0892Half Moon Pose  with box of fresh Cannoli in front of Mike’s Bakery in Boston’s North End.

Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)  is one of my favorite poses because it does so many things.  It is a hip opener, a chest opener, it stretches the shoulders, arms and legs and it’s a balancing pose.  It’s like a total body workout.  My favorite Italian pastry and my favorite asana.

Hip Openers

Standing in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) is a great hip opener.

Tree Pose in a local apple  orchard!

Tree Pose

Tree Pose

  1. 1.  Stand in Tadasana or Mountain Pose and shift your weight slightly to the left foot, keeping the foot firm on the floor, do not lock your knee.
  2. 2. Bend your right leg and bring the foot up placing the sole against the inner left groin, toes pointing toward the floor with center of pelvis directly over the foot.
  3. 3.  Keep the pelvis in neutral position with top rim parallel to the floor.  Lengthen the tailbone toward the floor making sure joints are stacked and spine is erect.
  4. 4.  Firmly press the sole of the foot against the inner thigh resisting with outer leg.
  5. 5.  Raise arms overhead, palms facing (your branches) keeping the shoulders down and gaze softly at a fixed point (your Drishti) to help hold your balance.
  6. 6.  Hold from 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Step back in Tadasana and repeat on opposite side.

BENEFITS:  Strengthens thighs, calves, ankles and spine; stretches the groins and inner thighs, chest and shoulders; improves sense of balance; relieves sciatica and reduces flat feet.

CAUTIONS:  Headache, insomnia, low blood pressure, high blood pressure (don’t raise arms).