Downward Dog Shoulder Alignment

DOWNWARD DOG

SHOULDER ALIGNMENT 

How Yoga Props Enhance Your Downward Dog

ADHO MUKHA

ALIGNMENT QUESTIONS IN DOWNWARD FACING DOG

How many times have you done Downward Facing Dog in your yoga practice? I can’t answer that either.  It’s a posture that shows up in a yoga class quite often.  It just becomes part of the foundation of a physical practice after a while.  When you started your practice, you may have been told that it’s a resting posture but, it doesn’t always feel like that does it?  It takes some time for it to feel “right” or even “comfortable”.  You’ve most likely navigated through things like:

Should my heels touch the mat?

How far apart should my hands be from one another?

What about the direction of my hands?

How far apart should my hands be from my feet?

Should my wrists feel this way?

Is it ok to bend my knees?

This list goes on. 

Over time, you start to develop a deeper understanding of the pose and begin to develop and integrate patterns in your body that feel “right”.

As you continue to learn and grow in your practice you may also get to a point where you begin to wonder if these patterns are actually serving you. This wondering may come from pain and/or injuries that may arise.  It may also simply arise from exposure to different practices and/or teachers.  What often happens is once you get comfortable with “the way you’ve always done it” it may be challenging to consider a different way and/or  adding on some new actions to actually improve not only the posture, but also to improve the health of your joint placement/alignment in the posture.  

It is important however, to be open to the process of “unlearning” and the process of developing new patterns.  The perspective that is important to take when you encounter times like this in your yoga practice, is to understand that it is all a part of growth and your specific journey to learn more about your own body.  It’s actually an opportunity.  Approaching your practice with an openness to opportunity, often leads to the unraveling and access to new breakthroughs in your practice. 

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    WHAT IS SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT?

    “Shoulder impingement is a common condition believed to contribute to the development or progression of rotator cuff disease” 

    Ludewig, Paula M, and Jonathan P Braman. “Shoulder impingement: biomechanical considerations in rehabilitation.” Manual therapy vol. 16,1 (2011): 33-9. doi:10.1016/j.math.2010.08.004

    Shoulder impingement and/or a pinching sensation in the shoulders is a common complaint when it comes to the execution of Downward Facing Dog.  You might feel this in early attempts of the posture, or after repeating patterns like drawing your shoulders away from your ears which may cause pain or irritation in the posture.

    In the video, Matt explains it quite nicely by saying that when you draw the scapula (shoulder blades) away from your ears, the upper arm bone (humerus) collides into the acromion process.  This action and collision is what creates the impingement or “pinching”.  This pinching can create pain, discomfort or may even lead to injury.  How do you know this is happening from a visual standpoint?  Matt explains that you can see what looks like a “dimple” in the shoulder when the humerus is pulling down away from your ears. For further information for proper alignment in Downward Dog, you can also check out Matt’s blog 3 STEPS TO AVOID SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT IN DOWNWARD FACING DOG.

    WATCH THE VIDEO: DOWNWARD DOG SHOULDER ALIGNMENT

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    USING A ROLLED UP YOGA MAT FOR DOWNWARD FACING DOG

    Rolling up a yoga mat and using it as an additional prop provides excellent feedback and even assists you in the execution of the steps to set up Downward Facing Dog.  It helps to create new patterns in your body to avoid shoulder impingement in this foundational posture.

     Matt details exactly how to use your mat by following these steps:

    1.  Place a rolled up mat horizontally across the top you your mat
    2. Place your hands in front of the mat
    3. Go back into Downward Dog (bend your knees and send your tailbone to the sky)
    4. Move your armpits forward towards your hands  and lift them up. 

    What’s happening here is that this action will activate the rhomboids and the upper trapezius will activate from the lift of the armpits.  This will also support the movement of the top of the shoulder blades going inward while the bottom of the scapula are protracting.

     In this step, it’s also a great opportunity to check in and get some feedback within your body.  If you put a lot of pressure into the yoga mat then you know you’re dropping the armpits down and are causing the sub-acromion pinch.  Matt offers the cue here of reaching through outer lines of the arms so that the scapula will upwardly rotate.

     “During normal motion, the scapula will upwardly rotate and posteriorly tilt on the thorax during elevation of the arm in flexion, abduction, scapular plane abduction, or unrestricted overhead reaching.”

     Ludewig, Paula M, and Jonathan P Braman. “Shoulder impingement: biomechanical considerations in rehabilitation.” Manual therapy vol. 16,1 (2011): 33-9. doi:10.1016/j.math.2010.08.004

    5.   Externally rotate the humerus (biceps face forward and pinky edge of the hand pulls bottom portion of scapula around

    After these actions are put into place, you may feel like the inside edge of your hand is pulling up, so articulating the next step is important.

    6.  Turn your palms down (the radioulnar joint pronates the forearm and this is a separate action that happens specifically at the forearm and separate from the action of the external rotation of the humerus).

    7.  Turn hands out a little more and wider  (this also helps to create less chance of shoulder impingement)

    8.  Heels of the hands are lifted (again, creating that lightness and less touch against the yoga mat. 

    Not only will this create less impingement, it will also strengthen the flexors of the wrist which will feel better and allow you to feel more safe.

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    • Active, passive, and isometric stretching
    • Improve mobility and stability
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    SIMPLIFY THE STEPS FOR MASTERING DOWNWARD DOG SHOULDER ALIGNMENT

    In the video, Matt offers what’s called “Mock” or “Modified” Down Downward Dog on your knees.  Here are the steps:

    1.  Armpits Lift
    2. Lengthen – shoulders to the ears 
    3. Go up and back
    4. Externally Rotate the arm bones (biceps face forward)
    5. Heels of the hands (carpal tunnels)  lifted

    Integrating these new actions may feel quite awkward once you start to gradually implement them.  They may not feel quite “right”.  This is that process of “unlearning” and creating new neuromuscular patterns in your body.  Eventually they will start to feel more “comfortable” and you will notice the change in the development of your strength.  Setting this foundation will help to support your journey in other postures where it is necessary to utilize strength and balance from your shoulders, forearms, and hands.

    If you enjoy diving deeper into the potential of your body and of the yoga practice as a whole, you can deepen your studies in Matt’s 200 and 300 Hr. Trainings.  

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    Downward Dog Shoulder Alignment

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    Calm The Mind with Meditation

    CALM THE MIND 

    GO BENEATH THE SURFACE

    SUTRA 1.2

    CALM THE MIND

    “If restraint of the mental modifications is achieved, one has reached the goal of yoga” this is taken directly from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (pg. 3)

    “Yoga is the experience we have when all vritti (fluctuations of the mind), the movement arising in our consciousness, is stilled.” This is the breakdOwn/interpretation from Tantra of The Yoga Sutras by Alan Finger (pg. 21)

    Both explanations of  Yoga Sutra 1.2 “Yoga citta vritti nirodhah” help us to understand what we seek in our practice and in our lives.  What we seek is stillness, the decluttering and calming of the mind in order to exist and take actions from a place of steadiness and discernment, rather than from a place of being reactive and steered by our emotions.

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      THE 5 LAYERS OF THE MIND

      The tantric point of view seems to provide more space for the allowance of our natural human experience, which includes the 5 Layers of the Mind, These are explained in Tantra of the Yoga Sutras as follows:

      • Undistorted Knowledge – occurs when the mind creates an image from direct perception; for example, what you experience from your senses and/or intuition, deductions form partial information, and/or credible testimony from text, a teacher, or parent
      • Misconception – this happens when the mind directly perceives something through the senses or intuition, but creates a distorted image of what it is perceiving.  

      *This distortion may come from our Samskaras, which are our underlying, deep rooted patterns and beliefs which are deeply connected to our ego and how we define ourselves in specific identities and experiences.

      • Imagination – is when we hear about something and the mind creates an image that is based on anything other than words.
      • Sleep here, the mind experiences inertia.  This is its own form of vritti, which helps the mind to reset and recharge. To calm the mind, mastering sleep habits is essential. 
      • Memory – is when a previously perceived object, form, or idea comes back into consciousness.

      From the Tantric perspective, these are natural occurrences that we are not trying to “rid ourselves” of, but simply (or not so simply) trying to harness.  These layers exist and they are valuable to our human experience in this life.  It is my opinion that whatever language we resonate with, both perspectives do offer us the ability to  understand that we have the potential and competence to go beneath the surface of these fluctuations.  Going beneath the surface, can essentially be interpreted as calming the mind.  It’s when the fluctuations create chaos and/or anxiety that we become out of balance and the mind feels cluttered and busy.  This is when and why we go to our yoga practice, meditation, and pranayama in order to soften these layers.

      How is this achieved?  This is achieved through focus with intention.  This can also be interpreted as well placed effort or Abhyasa, which means “making your best effort to focus all the vritti on one single point, whether it is in action, object, thought, or image.” Finger, Alan. Tantra of the Yoga Sutras. Pg. 26.

       Matt has this ability to effortlessly weave this into every class.  Each breath, transition, biomechanical set up is methodical and very intentionally expressed so that we have no choice to move in a way that harnesses our attention within.  We are so focused on not only the movements, but the sensations we experience throughout.  These are the “aha moments” if you will.  Matt explains that it is when we go deeper to the level of awareness of the sensations that this is when we actually experience stillness.  This is when we go below the layers of the fluctuations of the mind.  This is when we find more calm and presence in the moment.

       You’ll see at the end of  today’s video, how even with what may appear to be “simple movement” is executed with such precision and awareness that we have no choice but to surrender to the sensations and to the release of the “fluttering” of the mind.

      In this particular class,  Matt is preparing us for Side Crow.  He talks about this harnessing of the mind within the movement.  He explains how we focus the body and breath in order to go deeper within.  He then proceeds into the next actions in the physical body that will lead us towards what is necessary for side crow, but in the moment, we are fully engrossed with the stillness of mind in the present moment/present actions.  Now as our muscles activate, build heat and tension, the fluctuations may want to rise and fall with more intensity again, but please note that all vritti are motivated by either pain or pleasure, so whether the experience is difficult and challenging or if it is easy and delightful, we can still place our efforts in a way that help us to maintain a sense of tranquility within that.  Maybe it’s that when the vrittis intensify due to challenge, the tranquility comes from an understanding that any particular challenge is ultimately happening for us and not to us and that by letting go of the outcomes (Vairagya) we will come to see just exactly how they serve us in the end.  On the other hand, when there is excitement, joy, happiness, and the mind is wild with elation; we can enjoy it for what it is yet recognize that these are the energies of life. The ups and the downs don’t determine our value, they simply reveal an opportunity to stay present.

      WATCH THE VIDEO

      “Calm the Mind with Meditation”

      The 5 KOSHAS OF OUR EXISTENCE

      But, what are these deeper layers?  What lies beneath the surface of the vrittis?  Where do we actually find/experience stillness? How do we find more calm in the mind?

      In Eastern philosophy we come to understand the Koshas (or the energetic layers of our body that encapsulate one another).

      In the context of the yoga practice, the 5 Koshas are:

      1. PhysicalAnnamaya Kosha – This is our physical body. This is where we bring awareness to the biomechanics and techniques in our practice.  We become more skilled at the awareness of our bodies in space (proprioception).  Matt explains that we develop more discernment when it comes to knowing the difference between our mind being uncomfortable and our bodies being uncomfortable.  There is a difference between pain and discomfort.  We learn to decipher between the two in order to honour our bodies within our practice. 
      2. EnergeticPranamaya Kosha – This is the vibrancy of our energy (i.e. when we wake up after a good night’s sleep, we feel rested and vibrant.  We feel the exact opposite after a poor night’s rest. Also, when we are working on this layer we are working on pranayama.
      3. MindManamaya Kosha – Here we are getting closer to the awareness of who we are.  We are more self aware of our mental and emotional patterns by way of our physical practice.  We come to understand the lens through which we look and how we perceive life.
      4. AwarenessVijnanamaya Kosha – This is our intuitive body and/or our insight.
      5. BlissAnandamaya Kosha – The inevitable result of becoming more self aware – strengthening connection to the 3 outer layers, our ability to become aware and then the inevitable bliss

      Surrendering to the sensations and awareness of the first 3 layers help to unlock the deeper inner layers of awareness and bliss.  Matt explains that bliss is the inevitable result of becoming more in tune with our ability to become aware.  This is actually the practice of svadhyaya (self-reflection/awareness).  

      In Chromatic yoga, Matt guides us to understand that this is exactly what is taking place.  He provides continued opportunities in our asana practice to become more aware within the first 3 layers and that this is how we access the stillness, we go beneath the fluctuations of the mind and more inward towards awareness and bliss. As described above, we do this by paying attention to techniques and the biomechanics of the body.  Matt shows us how to become more aware of how to engage and arrange our joints to feel better in our bodies on and off of the yoga mat. The goal is to become self aware in the asana practice. To then become in all areas of our lives.

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      THE ROLE OF MEDITATION TO GO BENEATH THE SURFACE

      At the beginning of the Heart Module in Matt’s 300 Hr. Yoga Teacher Training, he describes Meditation as a way to help ourselves to “clean out the dirt and dust” within our minds.  Again, it is a process of self-inquiry that helps us understand where the dirt came from and why we didn’t clean it sooner. Meditation keeps the dirt from building, self inquiry inspires us to keep meditating.  We also come to understand that meditation is not the removal of our thoughts, but again where we place our attention.  This is exactly what the Tantric perspective provides for us.  There is the understanding that the 5 layers of the mind are not to be removed (they are natural), but where do we place our attention? Yes, you’re right…beneath the surface. 

      In the 2015 study, Meditation: Process & Effects, by: Hari Sharma, it explains that:

      “During the process of meditation, accumulated stresses are removed, energy is increased, and health is positively affected overall.”

      This directly reveals the value of meditation and its ability to settle the fluctuations of the mind.  It’s focused attention and the well placed effort (Abhyasa) of our awareness that supports the removal of certain stressors. This supports our ability to quiet and calm the mind.  With increased energy, we can go to our mats for asana in order to build on our awareness of the 3 outer layers of the koshas.  

      The study also says:

      “In ancient Vedic texts, it is said that the meditation process takes the mind from the outer realm of the objective world to the inner realm of the inner faculty (which includes the mind, intellect, ego, and Chitta – the storehouse of all memories and impressions of life), and finally goes beyond both the outer and inner realms to reach the deep inner Self.”

      Sharma, Hari. “Meditation: Process and effects.” Ayu vol. 36,3 (2015): 233-7. doi:10.4103/0974-8520.182756

      This is it, it describes the process of going from the external to the internal and finally going to the inner realm to the deeper self.  This is just another way of describing the shift from sitting within the crashing waves of the mind, to going beneath the surface and into the stillness.  

      There is clearly a lot to uncover and unpack here, but this is the beauty of stepping into our awareness.  All we have to do is take the first step. 

      “Yoga citta vritti nirodhah” can happen at any time you want.  You don’t just go to the yoga mat to find this.  You go to life to find this. Funneling attention into awareness itself at any time helps you to find more opportunities and moments to remain in the realm of stillness.

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      Article by Trish Curling

      Video Extracted From: 300 Hr. Training

      12 Online Yoga classes to Learn Anatomy

      ANATOMY IN MOTION

      APRIL 2022 Immersion

      • Embody anatomy
      • Learn key muscles, bones, and joints
      • Visualize your movements internally
      • Improve proprioception
      • Sensation-based practices
      • Unlock and strengthen major muscle groups
      • Active, passive, and isometric stretching
      • Improve mobility and stability
      • Get VERY geeky

      $168.00

       

      CHOOSE YOUR PATH

      NEXT TRAINING BEGINS AUGUST 27th 2022, ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN
      NEXT TRAINING BEGINS SEPTEMBER 18th 2022, ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN

      Continue Learning

      Downward Dog Shoulder Alignment

      Downward Dog Shoulder Alignment

      DOWNWARD DOG SHOULDER ALIGNMENT  How Yoga Props Enhance Your Downward DogADHO MUKHAALIGNMENT QUESTIONS IN DOWNWARD FACING DOGHow many times have you done Downward Facing Dog in your yoga practice? I can’t answer that either.  It’s a posture that shows up in a yoga...

      read more
      Calm The Mind with Meditation

      Calm The Mind with Meditation

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      read more
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      hamstring stretch technique for wide legged forward fold

      WIDE LEGGED FORWARD FOLD 

      INCREASE YOUR FLEXIBILITY WITH RECIPROCAL INHIBITION

      PRASARITA

      a safe approach to increase flexibility

      It’s not unusual to feel “stuck” in our yoga practice at times. We may come to a place in our physical practice where we are not experiencing our full potential.  One of the common areas we may feel “stuck” is with our flexibility.  

      In one of my  previous articles Healthy Hamstrings I discussed how Matt demonstrated how to create more flexibility utilizing a Facilitated Stretch Technique.  There are, however, more ways than one to create more flexibility within our bodies. We can also achieve greater flexibility with Reciprocal Inhibition.

      Reciprocal Inhibition is doing the opposite of what a facilitated stretch asks us to do.  It’s true we are still activating muscles in order to achieve greater flexibility, but we are now activating the muscles that oppose the muscles that are stretching. 

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        MORE INFORMATION

        EFFECTIVE STRETCH TECHNIQUE

        In today’s video, Matt demonstrates how to explore these actions in Prasarita Padottanasana: Wide Legged Forward Fold.

        In Prasarita Padottanasana (an open hip posture) our legs are in  Abduction while we are also flexing at the hip.  Placing our bodies in this position requires us to find flexibility in our adductors and hamstrings.  There are also key areas for potential strength in this posture and where we can explore activation at different times.  These areas include:  Adductors, Abductors, Quads (including Rectus Femoris which is also a hip flexor), and Hamstrings.

        Activating the adductors and hamstrings would support the facilitated stretch technique, while activating abductors and quadriceps generates the reciprocal inhibition technique.  In this segment of the video, Matt demonstrates how to activate the quadriceps and why:

        PREPARE THE POSTURE

        1.  With your feet spread wide on your mat, turn your thighs slightly inward which will allow your feet to also turn slightly towards one another, 
        2. Place your hands on your hips then initiate an anterior tilt of your pelvis as you tip your torso forward.
        3. Hands come down to the floor in front of you to support (you may also opt to place blocks under your hands) 

        HOW TO ACTIVATE YOUR QUADRICEPS

        1. Activate by energetically lifting your thighs away from your knee caps.  
        2. Feel as though you are drawing your upper thigh bones up into your hip socket.

        Activating your quadriceps helps with reciprocal inhibition because one of the quadriceps is rectus femoris, which is a hip flexor. When these muscles are activated, then the opposing muscles open up (in this case, the hamstrings).

        He describes it as almost “suction cupping” your thigh bones upward, which will help turn on hip flexors and quads.

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        MORE INFORMATION

        WHY TAKE THIS APPROACH?

        We must in a sense be a “Professor in our Postures”  What does this mean?

        It means that there is infinite space for inquiry in our practice. We have an opportunity to examine, and reflect how we approach our practice each time we step onto the mat.  We can take a more informed approach with information like this, that supports our ability to not only realize our potential, but to practice in a way that creates resilient and healthy tissues.  Our approach becomes more calculated and informed.  We are really then tapping into what is available to us in our bodies, by utilizing the actions our bodies are so brilliantly designed to perform. 

        Join Matt in his next immersion and/or upcoming 200 or 300 Hr. trainings.  Take advantage of this opportunity to awaken both mind and body. 

        See you on the mat!

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        Article by Trish Curling

        Video Extracted From: Mobility Immersion

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