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Have you ever taken a yoga class where the teacher asked you to do:⠀
-Draw the shoulders away from the ears⠀
-Draw the shoulders “down and back”⠀
-Plug the shoulders into their sockets
-“Melt into your heart” while in Plank Pose⠀
Pour Quoi, OM-ies? (That’s French for “why?”)⠀
If you understand how the shoulders naturally operate within your body, you would question these cues completely. ⠀
In fact, these cues GO AGAINST the way shoulders are supposed to operate. ⠀
Let’s go over the rhythm of the shoulders when you raise your arms up to the sky. Your shoulder structure has a set of bones, muscles and ligaments that move together to their own beat. Think of it like a human-sized manual clock with all its gears that work together in “bone, thugs and harmony” (bad joke that gave my age away, I know ??♀️)
The primary joint (no, not THAT kind of joint) that your shoulders uses is called a “Ball and Socket” type. So, your arm could technically swivel around in a 360, but it can’t because of how the surrounding bones, connective tissue and muscles are structured.⠀
Also, your shoulderblade moves in a “winging” motion when you open your arm wide, swing it up to the sky and when you cross your arms (hopefully to give yourself a hug). ⠀
So, when you transition into Chair Pose (Utkatasana), your arms have risen up towards the sky and your shoulderblades have glided out and up (like a quarter circular motion). ⠀
Your shoulder blades themselves aren’t going to move much at that point. So, when you’re asked to “plug the shoulders into the sockets”…where is it going? What could it be smacking into? ⠀
How would you possibly draw your shoulderblades “down and back”. ⠀
How would you be able to draw the shoulders from your ears? ⠀
Take a moment to look at the anatomy in my other slides in this IG post, ask yourself these questions and start making safer decisions as you practice on the mat. (So you can keep it sustainable in the long run) 🙂 ⠀
SO, SHOULDER INJURIES…HOW DO THEY COME ABOUT?
However, it’s another thing when you’re practicing 30 of them within a single yoga class, multiple times a week.
When you choose to practice yoga this way, your body becomes adept at that *one single set of movements*.
Think of your set of asanas as a yoga “buffet”. If you don’t introduce other kinds of movements to your meal, all you’re having is the same appetizer. Your body is not getting any other kinds of nutrients from any other kinds of strengthening, mobility work, etc. So, this complete imbalance occurs.
Add to that the likelihood of yoga poses like Upward-Facing Dog and Chaturanga compressing the shoulder and wrist joints.
“PRACTICE (YOGA) AND ALL IS COMING”?? IT’S MORE LIKE INFLAMMATION AND IMBALANCED BODY IS COMING
I used to think that if I kept practicing proper alignment that parts of my body would just fall into place.
I had to hug the elbows into the side body, broaden the shoulders, engage the “bandhas” (the co-activation and locking of muscles to make for controlled movement and more), press the heels back and somehow figure this shit out after the 2 hours of “movement in meditation”.
I would feel the pain in my shoulders increasing each day I showed up to my Ashtanga Mysore-style class. The teacher would walk around and make sure every student was getting into their groove on the mat, but she clearly didn’t have the psychic knowledge to get that my shoulders were screaming out with increasing intensity.
When I finally asked for her to observe my “Vinyasa” (the sequence from Downward-Facing Dog, High Plank, Chaturanga, Upward-Facing Dog and back to Downdog…she told me she could see how my alignment was not quite there, yet. That this was causing the weight to dump onto my shoulders.
“Don’t worry, you’re getting there,” she said encouragingly.
Weeks into this, and the pain got worse.
SHOULDER EXERCISE SCIENCE: WHAT DOES IT REALLY TAKE TO DO A CHATURANGA?
According to this calculation on CalorieBee, when you are doing a push-up, you are “lifting” about 56% of your body weight (the other 44% is held up by your feet). In other words, for an average 200-pound person, doing one pushup is similar to (but not exactly the same as) doing one repetition on a bench press with about 112 pounds of weight.
When you are doing a push-up, you are “lifting” about 56% of your body weight (the other 44% is held up by your feet). In other words, for an average 200-pound person, doing one pushup is similar to (but not exactly the same as) doing one repetition on a bench press with about 112 pounds of weight. –CalorieBee
SO IF YOU CAN’T YET DO A WIDE-ARMED PUSH-UP, WHERE IS THIS PRESSURE TO DO A CHATURANGA?
Ask yourself this question (without any judgement or feeling like you did something wrong), and you can make a safer decision on what your next step is.
You can actually decide what it is you wanted out of “achieving” a Chaturanga! Did you want stronger pecs? Stronger triceps? What about your deltoid muscles?
How would you feel if you knew there were proven progressive steps that build these muscles? That once you build these muscles, you can have the solid support to carry 56% of your weight in a push-up (and eventually a Chaturanga)? What would this knowledge do for you if you knew that there were step-by-step exercises that would minimize your risk of injury and keep your yoga practice sustainable?
EXERCISES YOU CAN DO TO SAFELY PREP FOR CHATURANGA (LET’S GET YOUR SHOULDERS STRENGTHENED SAFELY!)
Knowing that your shoulder system is super complex (compared to your hips), let’s start with the basics: Your Rotator Cuffs
This is all about taking it slow, steady and progressively. Start with ZERO to light resistance and pay attention to how your shoulders activate. The more you put love and care into this foundation, the better it will be when you’re ready to add on more weight (and ramp up to that “Chata”)
NOTE: Some of these exercises require the use of either resistance bands or resistance tubes. One only needs something like a small (and full) water bottle. You can find this piece of equipment on Amazon. Do your research to be sure you’ve picked a good reputable brand. I personally use Bodylastics resistance tubes. They’ve got a lifetime warranty, 99% guaranteed not to snap!
Their basic set has been traveling with me everywhere…so much that I MAYYYY be producing a special yoga-strength program for you!!! (Stay tuned for that)
OKAY, LET’S GET TO THESE ROTATOR CUFFS!
***EXTERNAL ROTATION (WITH RESISTANCE BAND/TUBE)***
Attach a resistance band to a chair, doorknob or something that will not move. Be sure it’s at your elbow height.
If you’re using a resistance tube instead, anchor it using a “door anchor” to a…door (haha) or using an “anywhere anchor” around a fixed pole/pillar. (I personally dig the resistance tubes way more because they come with handles and ankle straps, I can use them for Pilates, weight training and yoga.)
If you anchor it to a door, be sure to lock the door so no one accidentally opens the door!
1. Keep Right Elbow at 90 degrees. Wrist straight. Elbow always tucked in towards torso.
2. Rotate outwards about 40-50 degrees and return.
3. Switch sides and do the same for the Left shoulder
12 reps 3 sets 1-2 X day
***INTERNAL ROTATION (WITH RESISTANCE BAND/TUBE)***
Follow the same positioning as the EXTERNAL rotation exercise.
This time, rotate INWARDS about 40-50 degrees and return.
Switch sides and do the same for the Left shoulder
12 reps 3 sets 1-2 X day
You can see here that I changed the tubes from yellow (lower resistance) to GREEN (higher resistance). What I gotta share with you is that it took me over a month of working with the yellow tube before I felt that my rotator cuffs were plateauing and ready for the green. I spent over 2 months on the green. Remember, slow and steady so you don’t risk injury!
***EXTERNAL+INTERNAL ROTATION (WITH A FULL WATER BOTTLE)***
1. Grab a towel and roll it up.
2. Lie on your side. You can use your lower arm to prop your head on
3. Place the rolled-up towel under your top upper arm.
4. Keep the upper arm alongside your body, bend at the elbow 90 degrees
5. Take the full water bottle with your top arm’s hand
6. Keeping the elbow bend, bring the water bottle up, then
Slowly lower it down
(Make sure the elbow does not move about. Keep it fixed.)
12 reps 3 sets 1-2 X day
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