Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog

Shoulder Mechanics Simplified

ALIGNMENT

PLANK, CHATURANGA, UPWARD DOG

How many times have you heard the cue “Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog” in a yoga class? If you’re a regular practitioner, it’s probably quite often (particularly in Vinyasa-style classes). These postures are often strung together in a sequence, and the repetition of this sequence can feel quite nice in your body once it becomes a more regular part of your asana practice. It’s easy, however, to become complacent in the execution of these postures and potentially miss opportunities to practice with more skill. In today’s video, Matt simplifies the shoulder mechanics within each posture and highlights how to effectively utilize the appropriate muscle groups for maximum efficiency in your body. You’ll come away with alignment insights that will uplevel your yoga practice.

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UNDERSTANDING PLANK

Plank is the foundation and start of the sequence of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog. It is the start of being able to understand some of the common tendencies you may have when it comes to stability. Matt explains that one tendency is the anterior tilt of the scapulae (i.e., the shoulders roll forward). This is not necessarily wrong, but if your body regularly defaults into the pattern, it may be an indication that your serratus anterior is weak. It’s your serratus anterior that works to protract the scapulae (a requirement for Plank Pose). If this area is weak, then your pectoralis minor will attempt to take over. A big indicator here is a “sagging” between the shoulder blades. In Plank, your torso is being weighed down by gravity, so the pull of the chest, or “sagging,” is almost inevitable if the serratus anterior is weak.

WATCH THE VIDEO

PLANK, CHATURANGA, UPWARD DOG: SHOULDER MECHANICS SIMPLIFIED

CHATURANGA AND THE ROLE OF GRAVITY

In the full class, Matt discusses the importance of understanding the role of gravity and its influence on Plank and Chaturanga. In Plank, we now understand the tendency to close the distance between the shoulder blades. In Chaturanga, however, there is an element of going with gravity through the movement, while also opposing it. In other words, in Chaturanga, the shoulder mechanics change. You’re moving from protraction in Plank to retraction.  This is where it gets tricky. Even though there is a level of retraction, it’s critical to note that the muscles that allow you to lower into Chaturanga slowly are the muscles that create protraction. There is still a level of effort placed on protraction so as not to just go with gravity and fall on your face. Essentially, you are fighting against gravity in order to maintain a slow stable descent into Chaturanga.

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UPWARD-FACING DOG

Falling into the same pattern of anterior tilt in the shoulders is very easy here too. Upward Dog has the capacity to be a strong backbend, but this is achieved by creating a posterior tilt of the scapulae. Instead of thinking about how to manipulate this action from the top of the shoulder blades, Matt suggests bringing your awareness to the bottom tips. Bringing the bottom tips of the scapulae in towards your midline while sending them forward will help to create the shape. Lifting your shoulders up while also sending them back will ultimately send your chest forward to create the backbend. If this proves to be challenging, it comes back to strengthening both the serratus anterior and, in this case, the lower trapezius, which can help you break away from old patterns. It’s the difference between dropping into gravity and lifting up and out with more power.

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TRANSITION

Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog—instead of just going through the motions, you now need a deeper sense of awareness in this sequence. Of course, your body will start to re-pattern, and there will be less thought once the pattern becomes ingrained in your body. The sequence of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog will become more fluid, but until then, it will be a process of becoming more familiar with the timing of when to protract, retract, elevate, and depress your shoulders. In today’s video from Matt’s Alignment Immersion, he takes you on the journey of these 3 postures. If you’re interested in going even further, investing in his 200 & 300 hour training programs is the way forward. This is where you will go further into not only transforming your own practice but becoming certified to support and transform the practice of your students.

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Alignment Immersion

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