Why Do Students Turn The Palms Open In Tadasana?

tadasanaThere are a good number of students who show up in my classes and turn their palms open to face the front of the room when we set up in tadasana. I have never understood this concept even though I have a feeling that I was there at its birth. This type of alignment wasn’t part of the practice when I started doing yoga and though I am not an Iyengar Yoga teacher (they have their own things that drive me crazy), I refer to Light On Yoga as the bible of the practice. BKS Iyengar’s tadasana, the first picture in the book, shows fingers pointed straight down with the palms facing the outer thighs.

When I stand up straight in life, waiting for a train for example, my palms don’t turn open, they face my outer thigh like in Iyengar’s tadasana. This just feels right to me.

I used to study with John Friend, ex of Anusara Yoga, and I remember when he started teaching this way. It was at a workshop out west I believe, and in his inimitable way, he combined the idea of turning the palms open with the image of saying “how wonderful”. And it seems like after that palms started turning open all over the place.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There are poses where the forearm rotate in this fashion (trikonasana, vasistasana) but I don’t understand the need to do it in Tadasana. So why do people turn the palms open in tadasana? I am guessing, but I imagine it is about opening the chest through an external rotation of the upper arm.

Assuming that I am right in my conjecture, why not turn the palms back in once the upper arm has opened. I often teach an arm exercise in standing poses where I have students take the arms out to the sides with the palms facing down like they will be in the final pose. I then have them rotate the palms up to face the ceiling which rolls the bicep up as well. Finally, working to keep the bicep up, I have them roll the palms down through a rotation of the radius and ulna, the bones of the forearm.

If this is similar to why students open their palms in tadasana, then they should then turn to palms back in to balance the action. Feel free to share your thoughts.

Follow Up To The Hands In Tadasana Post
PNF Stretching By Any Other Name
  1. Palms up feels more open through the chest and more like ‘surrender’ – it’s the same pose I go into when floating on my back in the swimming pool. In fact I guess I often imagine the sun on my face, my chest, my palms…..and just floating away.

    Just by your side just feels the same as what you’d do standing up I guess….

  2. I took a workshop from Judith Lasater once where she had us do a variation of Savasana where we placed the outer sides of the wrists down, so that the palms were relaxed and facing in towards the body. It felt great!

  3. I just stood in tadasana with arms relaxed, and noticed that my hands are turning out about 45 degrees (so not quite palms forward, but not palms in either). At this stage of the game, after teaching for 11 years, I don’t ask for any particular hand position in tadasana. I do ask, however that their shoulders be flowing back. As I play with it this morning, I notice that the pose feels very military-like (to me) if hands are forced in any direction.

    Thank you for these posts — I look forward to them; good food for thought.

  4. I think that the foream external rotation maybe could help some people who have protracted shoulder in order to relocated the humeral head in a suitable place (ball-in-socket joint). If the people also had a winged scapula, maybe this external rotation movement could help them to get the scapulas flat in the back… It could be a tool to teach the shoulder girdle placement related to the back and the chest.

  5. I took an anatomy workshop once and was told that the palms facing open is the correct human posture. Like the skeletons in anatomy class, they always have the palms facing forward because that’s the ideal prefect standing posture. I have noticed that as my posture gets better my hands have naturally started facing forward. Let me know your thoughts. 🙂

  6. Your hunch is right – not so much opening the chest for me but definitely to laterally rotate the arm. I need to because I have a lot of medial rotation there. I do it at first to get the lateral rotation at the arm then I try maintain the lateral rotation of the arm as I pronate the forearm.

  7. Hi,

    Great post! I have always felt more open with my palms facing up. I also adopt this posture when lying on the floor in constructive rest. For some reason it just seems right. Often it allows me to totally relax and to release my psoas at the same time. I find it opens my chest as well.

  8. Great question. Here’s my perspective. (I teach Vinyasa Flow with a strong emphasis on tuning into the natural flow of prana within the body so postures reveal themselves rather than get imposed upon the body. This leads to sahaja, or spontaneous asana.)

    There’s two reasons why I sometimes cue the hands this way in Tadasana. One has to do with anatomical reasons – the way that the shoulder blades flatten and drop on the back and the way the chest opens. Yes, this can be maintained if you then turn the hands back but keep the placement of the upper arms stable.

    However, reason #2 is energetic. Once the hands are in this place, there is an energetic flow/opening that comes from the chest down the arms and out the hands. There is a particular bhavana or feeling sense that arises as this flow happens.

  9. I’ve got a different perspective on the palms positioning… I’m asthmatic and have practiced Mountain Pose with palms forward and inward to determine what works best for me. When my palms are forward the muscles of my upper chest feel tight which induces a sensation of not being able to fully draw in breath (a major concern for anyone with asthma or COPD) which creates anxiety, an uncomfortable pressure in my chest and my breath becomes irregular. It’s almost as if my energy is getting trapped in my chest. When my palms are turned inward there is a sense of space within my chest cavity. I feel open-hearted, my body is light and my energy is animated, flowing upwards (through the crown of my head) and around my body. I’m careful to keep my upper arms in the shoulder socket.
    Also I like to utilize Prone Mountain prior to practicing Mountain Pose to open my chest and establish a feel for my axis line and proper placement of my shoulder blades.

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