When drawing the human body, the first thing you realize is that there are no straight lines. At all. The body is beautiful in all its curves and edges, and marvellously functional as a result. When we guide our classes through poses, we often hear the cue to “straighten” your legs or arms. Let’s explore what that actually means.
The arm is made of 3 bones – the humerus, or the upper arm, and the radius and ulna, which make up the lower arm. The shape of the arm is determined by these bones and the muscles and ligaments that hold them together. Although the elbow is a simple joint that simply bends and straightens, “straight” is surprisingly one of the harder shapes for an arm to make. It’s the biceps’ job to bend the arm at the elbow, and the triceps’ job to extend the arm. Some people’s arms can’t extend fully, and some people’s arms can extend a little too far (as seen below).
Because of the shape of the bones, the laxity of the tendons, and the tone of the muscle, some people’s arms can hyperextend, that is, to go past “straight” or 180 degrees. Most often in these cases, the triceps are a little stronger than the biceps, and they pull the forearm too far back. This usually causes elbow pain because the humerus jams into the ulna, the tendons at the crease of the elbow are being overstretched; and even wrist and shoulder pain, because the shoulders and wrists have to compensate for the misalignment.
The fix is simple: use your biceps to bend the elbow slightly, until the elbows line up with the wrists and shoulders. (Click here to build bicep and tricep strength).This will leave more space between your humerus and ulna, and will reduce tension at crease of the elbow. It may feel at first like your arm isn’t straight at all, (in fact in may feel like it’s bent a whole lot) but it’s a much healthier alignment for your bones and tendons especially when you start to bear more weight in inversions or arm balances.
Check your arms in the mirror or have someone take a photo of it. Straighten them in the way you understand it to be straight and see for yourself if your stacking your joints in a straight line. Better yet, don’t hesitate to consult with a knowledgable yoga teacher to help you find what “straight” means for your arm.
When she isn’t drawing body parts, you can find Tami Ledesma teaching Vinyasa, FNR, Gentle Flow, and Pre-Natal yoga at Urban Ashram, or pulsing among her students at Barre3. Follow her asana adventures on Instagram at @movewithtami.