Buried under your biceps is the brachialis, a muscle in your upper arm that enables you to flex your elbow. If you develop the brachialis, it can increase arm strength as well as create the appearance of a bulging biceps muscle. When you activate the biceps and brachialis for elbow flexion, you also lengthen the triceps, or the muscle in the back of the arm opposing this movement. A wide variety of yoga poses are made possible by brachialis' action in elbow flexion.
A yoga pose that maintains an elbow flexion is the Goddess pose, in which you hold your arms in right angles. For example, stand with your feet about 4 feet apart. Turn your feet out so they face the corners of the room or at 45-degree angles. Raise your arms to shoulder height and fully extend them to your sides. Flex your elbows to form right angles with your arms. Point your fingers to the ceiling and turn your palms in so they face each other. On the exhalation, bend your knees and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Imagine you are holding a large orb overhead. Hold the pose for three to six breathing cycles.
In some yoga poses, the biceps and triceps contract simultaneously to keep your elbow sturdy and stable. When you have to balance your body weight with or on your arms, the stabilization of your elbows becomes an important factor in completing the pose. For example, when you perform a headstand, or sirsasana, a sustained elbow flexion helps you to balance your body. The Peacock pose, or mayurasana, requires that you hold an elbow flexion while balancing your body horizontally in midair on your forearms.
Because yoga poses don’t require much pulling or lifting, your brachialis and biceps don’t receive as much of a workout as your triceps, according to “Arms Control,” an article by Julie Gudmestad in the Yoga Journal. Although you put some stress on your upper arms when you take hold of your feet and pull yourself deeper into a forward bend, the exercise doesn’t equate to, for example, weight training. To strengthen your upper arms, you can use small 2- to 5-pound hand weights. Perform biceps curls in which you lift the weight by flexing the elbow and drawing the weight to your shoulder. Begin with a single set of 10 reps, building up to three or four sets as your arms grow stronger.
To stretch the brachialis and biceps muscles, stand close to a doorway or a wall. Position your right shoulder at a 90-degree angle to the wall. Extend your right arm and hook your hand to a doorjamb, or simply place it on the wall. While keeping your arm in place, rotate your body away from your arm. You should feel the stretch in your upper arm. Hold the peak position for about 20 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the stretch with your other arm.
- The Key Poses of Yoga; Ray Long, et al.
- The Science & Philosophy of Teaching Yoga and Yoga Therapy; Jacqueline Koay, et al.
- Yoga Journal: Arms Control; Julie Gudmestad
- Yoga Journal: The Ten Most Important Stretches; Judith Lasater
- Yoga Basics: Utkana Konasana
- Yoga Journal: Peacock Pose
- Men’s Health: Build Bigger Biceps