I meet so many people whose asana practice has given them very sore shoulders. More often than not this is from the very popular vinnyasa movement where we transition from Downward Facing Dog to Chaturanga and then up to Upward Facing Dog and then reverse the movement. This movement is often performed a number of times in a class and repeated session after session. Without the proper muscular support we end up with very sore if not damaged rotator cuff muscles. This month I’m feeling passionate about safe shoulders.
Our arms and shoulders are really not equipped to support our body weight. That’s the job of the legs and hips and if you think about it you can see the difference in their structure. The hip joint is large and well supported with lots of ligaments and muscles to hold the leg in place which incidentally doesn’t allow the leg much range of motion, whereas the shoulders are comparatively flimsy and not well supported but have a great range of motion. Therefore we need to be extra careful when we put weight into them, making sure we move slowly and safely into and out of strong poses like planks and updogs.
Shoulder safety is actually quite simple. We can access it from a table top position and then use the knowledge gained in all our arm supported poses. There are three important points:
- Draw the shoulders down away from the ears. This means don’t hunch the shoulders up. This helps to establish a firming of the muscles at the base of the shoulder blades.
- Rotate the upper arms slightly outwards. Another way of saying this is draw the triceps towards each other. This helps to sit the shoulder blades flat against the rib cage.
- Broaden the rib cage. This helps to draw the spine up between the shoulder blades where it will be most supported.
These three cues help to produce a co-activation of the muscles to the front, sides and back of the shoulders so the arms will be fully supported in our weight bearing poses and we won’t be hanging into the rotator cuff muscles and causing injury.
Just one last point is that we can actually take a lot of work out of the shoulders by activating our core support muscles. In fact there’s a kind of mantra that applies to every pose which will provide a good groundwork of support.
“Lightly activate the feet, thighs and pelvic floor, lift the sternum and broaden the rib cage.”
Try this in all your arm support poses and keep your shoulders happy!
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training