After releasing my last blog about "The Yoga Cue That Could Be Destroying Your Shoulders" I received multiple messages and emails requesting and instructional for downward dog. While I go over this in depth and detail in my video series Handstand Strength Training, I decided I would create and free abbreviated breakdown of the 3 most important steps.
As described in this video and in my last blog, we run the risk of Shoulder Impingement when taking the arms up overhead while dropping our shoulders down our back. In my experience, I have noticed that "Relaxing" in downward dog is quite often the reason for most shoulder pain and issues, and can easily be rectified with the three cue's I provide in the video above:
- Externally Rotate the Humerus
- Pronate The Forearms (not directly related to the shoulder but balances out step 1)
- Elevate the Scapula
Elevation of the scapula happens when you lift your shoulder blades upward, which happens when you "shrug" your shoulders, or when you excitedly reach your arms up to the sky. Naturally, we would let our shoulders lift when our arms go up but since many instructors cue the opposite its easy develop a pattern that does not serve the health of our shoulders. My suggestion is to strengthen the muscle's up Scapula Elevation (Upper Trapezius, and Seratus Anterior being the primary ones) in order to develop the pattern that can help to avoid shoulder impingement.
Many people cringe when I suggest strengthening the muscles that lift the shoulders up, saying something like "but my shoulders are stuck up by my ears, aren't I supposed to relax them down." The Short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that muscles hold tension when they are weak. Your shoulders are likely up by your ears because of stress, and where you place your head when staring at your phone or computer screen, however pulling them down will not relax the trapezius. More likely it will cause more stress and the muscle will become more aggravated. Now I won't deny that if you are relaxing emotionally while you do this because you believe it will work then it will still have some positive effect but that's mostly due to a relaxation of the nervous system. Muscles relax when they are shortened, or engaged because that is what they are designed to do. Stretching a muscle can help release tension at times but more often than not I find active engagement or passive shorting of a muscle is far more effective. When a muscle is healthy and strong it is more likely to be able to relax.
Follow the three easy steps to avoid shoulder impingement and you will grow stronger in your trapezius muscles and rotator cuff. If you are looking for more ways to build strength in your shoulder girdle, and want to develop more body awareness check out the Handstand Strength Training video series
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