Yoga Pose of the Month: Cactus

cactuspose-jamesgordonThe English name for this pose makes perfect sense if you’ve ever seen a saguaro cactus. While it looks like a pretty basic pose, and it is in many ways, it has a few minutiae that are important not to overlook when attempting this pose.

What It Does

Sort of the opposite of eagle arm pose, cactus focuses on opening up the front of the body, the heart, lungs, diaphragm and chest by bringing the shoulder blades back toward each other and opening the arms out and back, whereas eagle opens up the upper back and shoulder by rounding them forward. If you’ve been sitting for a long time, especially if you’re relaxing or slouching, this is a great one to open things up again.

Why It Helps

So many of us spend time hunched over desks, electronic devices, or just wandering around with bad posture, so cactus pose is a great way to help you be mindful of your spinal alignment. Also, you may not notice it, but you may not be getting as much air into your lungs when you’re sitting or standing with poor posture. Learning how to open your chest again and feel how much air and breath you are capable of is a great feeling!

How to Wave Like a Cactus

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor, up on a block or blanket if you need to help get your hips and spine aligned.
    Note: You can also do this on the floor, lying down, or standing with your back to a wall if your shoulders and chest are tight, as you won’t be able to go as deep into the pose this way.
  2. Bring your hands into prayer position, and then lift them up, bringing your elbows up higher, attempting to be parallel with your shoulders.
  3. On your next inhale, open your arms back. They will be in an L-shape, with your fingers pointing up to the ceiling, and your palms facing forward.
  4. Open your arms back, bringing your shoulder blades together, and lift your head, opening the front of the neck, eyes skyward.
  5. On the exhale, bring your head back to level and your arms back together into an elevated prayer position at the front of your body.
  6. Repeat for a couple breaths, or however many times you wish in your regular practice, or as a short, tension relief pose.
  7. For a good view of the pose, and a great, outdoor view in general, check out this photo from!

The Finer Details

  • When you open your arms back, you should be striving to bring your shoulder blades together and be mindful of not allowing your arms and elbows to drop too much. This is also good for your upper arm strength.
  • As you bring your arms back and open your chest, you may find yourself going into a slight backbend. The main focus of the pose is typically for re-aligning your spine rather than curving it into a backbend, but it’s natural to open into a slight bend here. It’s important simply to be aware of any pain or tension in your back that this may cause and back off if you need to.
  • Be sure your hips and sit-bones are rooted into the floor during this pose. You may find that your hips will tilt back as you open your chest, but it’s important to stay grounded and avoid losing your balance or causing any misalignment in your lower body. If you find this too difficult, you may want to practice in a chair to get a better sense of your alignment before moving to the floor.


If your shoulders, chest, or the tendons and muscles on the front side of your shoulders, just to the sides of your collarbones, are tight, make sure you only go as far as is comfortable, and back off a bit if you need to so you don’t overextend anything.

Also, note how your neck feels in this pose as you lift your head skyward for the opening of the arms. If your neck is tight or if you have any pain in it, don’t worry so much about arching your neck and keep it at a level that is comfortable for you. As you work with the pose more, some of that tension should release over time and allow you to open the front of your neck as you open the front of your body.

Take It To The Next Level

If you’re feeling up to it, you can use a strap for this pose between your hands to help open your chest up further, but it’s important to listen to your body and only go as far as your body, not the strap, will allow comfortably.

Hold It

This pose works well with a flow routine following your breath, so instead of holding your arms open or together for an extended period, you’ll want to open up on the inhale, and bring the arms back together on the exhale. If you are especially tight practicing this pose, keep to a shorter time holding it, and you can work on building up the time, or simply enjoy it and move on in your flow practice.


No matter what, yoga is all about YOU. Getting in touch with your body, your comfort level, and your breath. Never hold a pose longer than is truly comfortable to do so, and if you experience discomfort or pain in a pose, ease up or change poses to relieve the discomfort.

REMEMBER: In yoga, your practice is YOUR practice. Nobody’s yelling at you to move faster, bend lower, or breathe deeper. There’s no competition, no drill sergeant trainer, and no counter telling you how many reps to do. If you can’t get the full pose today, it’s all right. You’ll try it again another time when you feel more flexible and more comfortable with it.

Sources: Yoga District
Photo by: James Gordon

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