ALIGN + REFINE: YOGA FOR STRONG OPEN SHOULDERS

 

What follows is a brief highlight of the work we talked about (and some we didn't) in our 2 hours together I hope it helps you have more of a conversation and less of an argument with your shoulders. Remember, that there is no good or bad movement and alignment will only get you so far. If your body is not ready/familiar/trained/use to _________ insert your move then it is wise to find the version (regress it) of the pose that you can learn the most from in a sustainable way. 

 

1. Shoulder Flossing. Maintenance! This is as good as it gets, just as exciting as flossing your teeth- but very effective! Use a yoga strap, a necktie or a belt. Hold with both hands wide enough so you can lift the arms overhead, lowering the strap behind you down to about the hips and then returning to the front-body. Keep the arms straight. Go slow and incorporate the breath.  As the chest opens and the shoulders warm, you’ll find that you can take the hands closer together on the strap. Linger as needed. 

Also this gem: Yogi Backpack with a strap for posture feedback: A video reminder of how to configure the strap. https://youtu.be/4KkyxS46eoM?t=39s

2. Side bends for the lats(Latissimus Dorsi). Often a tightness on the back sides of the body that keeps us from fully expressing poses like Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin Pose or Wheel Pose. Side bends are numerous, they can be done seated or standing. 

Seated: Reach your right hand down to the floor. Reach your left arm overhead toward your ear - few breaths here lengthening the side body. Now for the lats. Slightly turn your chest toward your lap, gazing down, but keep reaching your arm overhead. Root down your left hip and sit bone as you reach through your ring finger of hand overhead. Inhale rise to open, exhale- turning the chest toward your lap. Repeat. 

Standing: From Mountain Pose (standing tall). Reach the arms overhead and hook your thumbs together spreading the fingers wide.  Bend to each side: right and left with the chest turning in slightly towards the floor and then reopening.  (Similar movement as described for seated).

3. Deconstructing our Downward-Facing Dog. You have permission to adjust your hands. Experiment with turning the hands out to see if it makes down-dog more accessible and comfortable for your wrists, arms, and shoulders. We often think of orienting things to the front of the mat, but that is only one way out of many. Broaden your awareness of ways to place the hands in this foundational pose. Have you thought about what your arms and shoulders are doing in DD? Turning the hands out means the arms will externally rotate some. We spend a lot of time in down dog, go ahead and refine it! 

4. Deconstructing/modifying Chaturanga. To do this pose with more ease and integrity consider doing it from a half plank (on your knees) or practicing it with a block aligned near your sternum. Elbows hug in and (my preference) with the elbows not to go behind/beyond the back ribcage (90 degree bend). Get better at chaturanga by doing other work that strengthens the muscles involved - back body lats, serrates anterior, triceps. Do some pulling work. 

See that block? It lets you pause and feel. Nice way to work with chaturanga if you want to spend some time on refining it. 

See that block? It lets you pause and feel. Nice way to work with chaturanga if you want to spend some time on refining it. 

5. Low cobra pose and Locust pose. Two effective, accessible yoga poses that strengthen the back body (posterior chain) and open the front body. 

6. Vinyasa flow w/o chaturanga is the bees knees! We reviewed 2 ways to flow w/o it. There are endless others. Find yours :)

  •  Half vinyasa to warm up and move (reach arms overhead, fold forward, lift halfway, fold forward, return to mountain pose). 
  • Low lunge vinyasa (instead of chata step R back into low lunge, reach arms, step back to DD, step R forward into low lunge, reach arms, step forward to fold, rise to mountain, repeat with L). 

7. Purvotanasana/reverse plank or reverse tabletop pose.  That counter pose for everything that folds us forward in a day. From your seat, place hands behind with your fingers facing in. Press into your hands, root down into your feet and lift your hips. Drive strong through the arms. 

8. Savasana before the savasana on a bolster, blanket or block.  Align with length of spine (north, south). This provides a passive opening for the chest and the front-body. 

For those who are aspiring body nerds and want to learn more human anatomy - I recommend these two apps from your phone's app store: Human Anatomy Atlas and Essential Anatomy 5.

*A reminder that this work doesn’t have to hit you over the head to be effective! Get creative in how you refine and support your shoulders on and off the mat – they didn’t get tight or deconditioned overnight.