full wheel shoulder alignment elbows in or out

FULL WHEEL POSE

STOP HUGGING THE ELBOWS IN

SHOULDER ACTIONS FOR MAXIMUM FLEXIBILITY

FULL WHEEL

FULL WHEEL POSE SHOULDER FLEXIBILITY

,You may have noticed that full wheel pose is quite challenging, and you might think the issue is your back, core, or shoulder strength. Sure, each of these play a role, but not nearly as much as the simple technique of retracting the shoulder blades and widening the elbows. For whatever reason, there is a myth that elbows need to be hugged in for safety. This is simply not true. Have you ever seen a body builder press a tremendous amount of weight above their head? If yes, then you know their elbows are not tucked in, and considering the amount of weight they are lifting, it’s pretty obvious that there is nothing wrong with this bio-mechanically. In my opinion, it’s not only okay to widen the elbows; it’s a much better physiological decision.

WHY DOES MY TEACHER ALWAYS SAY TO HUG THEM IN?

This cue is coming from the basic understanding that the shoulder joint is more stable when the arms are externally rotated. However, hugging elbows in is overly stabilizing, which is why everyone struggles with mobility when elbows are tucked in for wheel pose. Furthermore, if we take a closer look, hugging elbows in will likely trigger your pectoral muscles to engage, and not your rotator cuff. Rather than bore or lose you with the anatomical details, I will tell how to find out for yourself by trying out the difference while sitting up.

CONTROLLED TEST WITH A STRAP

OLD WAY:

  1. Bring your arms in front like you’re going to do the Macarena, then bend your elbows, mimicking what most teachers have told you to do in full wheel.
  2. Loop a strap around both elbows to keep them in – this is often used in alignment-based classes.
  3. Without letting the elbows go wider than your shoulders,  raise your arms up, straightening your elbows while keeping them tucked in, and see how vertical your arms can get.

Most likely you wont be able to go too high up without effort. IF you are hyper-mobile in the shoulders you may be able to and if full wheel is working the way you are doing it, then continue that way. However, if your feel pinching in your shoulders, watch the tutorial below.

NEW WAY:

  1. Widen your elbows out to the sides like you are making cactus arms.
  2. Reach your arms up to the sky like you are celebrating a victory.

You will likely notice that this felt more natural and relatively easy. That’s because it IS NATURAL to lift your arms this way. The best way to approach full wheel pose for maximum flexibility in the shoulder girdle is to allow the elbows to be out. 

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If you want to feel better in your shoulders, this is THE immersion to practice!

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DON’T HUG THE ELBOWS IN & ENJOY YOUR LOW BACK 

Amazingly enough, when you allow the shoulders to move properly, you will notice that you can shift your weight into your hands and out of your feet and this will take the pressure off of the low back! This is because the backbend will now be dispersed throughout the whole spine instead of targeted straight into one or two vertebrae in your lumbar spine (typically L4 and L5 for most people).

EASIER SAID THAN DONE?

Ok Ok Ok, after that demo you might visually or intellectually get it, and perhaps you want to give this a try. Doing the shoulder actions while seated is far easier than trying it upside down and on your head. This is partially because our body can propriocept (know where it is in space) much easier when right side up simply because that’s how we exist most of the day. But your nervous system needs to learn where your bones are and how to activate your muscles when everything is flipped upside down. This is just the way it is; the only thing you can do about it is put yourself upside down MORE OFTEN, AND watch this video repetitively to stimulate your “mirror neurons”, which allow you to mimic something more easily through repetitive viewing.

To get these shoulder actions fully integrated into your practice sign up for the Shoulder Revelation Immersion – twelve classes designed to help you develop mastery of movement within the shoulder girdle.

Thank you for reading and watching, I look forward to sharing more with you in an upcoming training or monthly immersion!

Co-written and edited with 300-hour Chromatic teacher, Donna Morin.

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"Shoulder Revelation"

The September 2021 Immersion includes a full length class to Wild Thing Pose as well as 11 additional classes emphasising shoulder techniques and Bio-Mechanics! In this package you will get 12, 75-minute Yoga Classes to help you gain maximum strength, flexibility and range of motion of the shoulders. You will also learn how to release neck tension, and reduce risk of shoulder and neck injuries.

If you want to feel better in your shoulders, this is THE immersion to practice!

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Full Side Plank With Modifications STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWNFULL SIDE PLANK pFULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA USING THE WALL AS A PROP Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modification options and variations to help make it more...

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full side plank and modifications

Full Side Plank With Modifications

STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWN

FULL SIDE PLANK

pFULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA

USING THE WALL AS A PROP

Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modification options and variations to help make it more accessible or more challenging. I personally love teaching this posture with a foot on the wall to increase stability and provide a frame of reference for shifting the weight out of the hand and into the foot. 

Some people avoid the use of props thinking that they are a “crutch.” For sure, they could be used as a way to avoid challenges if that is your intention, but they could also be used as a way to increase body awareness and help you develop techniques. Props are neither good nor bad; it’s just a matter of how and why you are using them. Is it that you want to avoid challenges, or that you want to face the challenge intelligently and appropriately?

In the video tutorial below, I show how to modify side plank by placing a foot on the wall. This reduces the required balance and will allow you to focus on the foundations of the posture, like the strength of your hand and wrist: press thumb and pinky fingers into the ground. You can focus on the foot on the wall: attempt to press the instep of your foot into the wall. Eventually, you will be able to place the whole foot on the ground which will give you strength and power to lift the hips up. Lastly, keep your shoulder externally rotating, as indicated in the video.

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Full Side Plank & Modifications • Vashisthasana At the Wall

This Side Plank tutorial footage is taken from the July 2021 Immersion, titled BALANCE

Full Side Plank Set Up

What I don’t discuss in this particular clip is how the setup of this posture is exactly like Wild Thing. This means your pelvis is more open toward the sky as opposed to the standard side plank where your feet are stacked. The spine is in a backbend as well, unlike the standard variation where the spine is neutral.

There are other alignments you could explore, but these will tend to give you the greatest access to the full side plank variation where you grab the top foot and extend the leg. If you want to practice the full class, be sure to check out class #9 of the July 2021 Immersion, called Balance

 

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Three Full Side Plank Modifications and Variations

  1. Foot on The Wall: Once you rise up to wild thing, place the back foot on the wall – push your weight toward the wall, even if it means both knees are bent. This is not only okay but an indication that you are doing it properly.
  2. Tree Pose: The next step is infinitely more challenging because it requires greater balance and flexibility. Take the foot off the wall, similar to tree pose but without placing the foot on your inner thigh (though that is also another variation). I suggest pushing your knee into your hand to get your hip flexors active. Hip flexor strength becomes key when you attempt to straighten the leg. Often the tension of the hamstrings is too much and people have to let go of the foot. If your hip flexors are strong and used to engaging in this position, then they can help out by keeping the top leg closer to your upper body, lessening the chances that you’ll have to let go of the foot when extending the leg up to the sky.
  3. Full Side Plank or “Extended Vashisthasana”: Pull your knee in as tight as possible in order to grab your foot. Either stay as a modification or begin to kick the foot to the sky, straightening the top leg. Pro tip: it’s helpful to keep the bottom weight baring leg bent while extending the top leg upward. 
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  • HIPS, TWISTS, HEART, SHOULDERS, NECK & CORE
  • GUIDED MEDITATIONS TO DESTRESS, INCREASE FOCUS, & GAIN MENTAL CLARITY

Can’t Straighten Your Legs?

This is normal and it really shouldn’t be your focus. This is an incredibly physically demanding posture that requires extreme flexibility. Even with slightly bent knees, the posture is still visually stunning, and I would argue it’s even more bio-mechanically sound because bent knees typically trigger more muscle engagement.

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1. Balance Immersion: 12 Classes focused on Balance (video above is taken from this immersion) 

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Full Side Plank With Modifications STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWNFULL SIDE PLANK pFULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA USING THE WALL AS A PROP Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modification options and variations to help make it more...

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Backbends and the Glutes

Backbends and the Glutes

Should I engage my glutes in a backbend?

Should I Engage my Buttocks in a Backbend?

In the yoga world, there are many opinions on alignment and what muscles “should” or “should not” be engaged. One of the common questions I get is, “Should I engage my buttocks in Wheel pose or bridge pose?” I decided it’s time to address this question with a video response to help clarify the anatomy behind the posture. 

In the video, I go over the anatomy of Full Wheel aka Upward Facing Bow or Urdva Danurasana. The action at the hip joint in this pose is called extension. This is when your thigh bones go back behind your pelvis; think of the back leg in a crescent lunge pose.   The muscles that create extension at the hip are the Gluteus Maximus, Hamstrings, and Adductor Magnus. The Gluteus Maximus is the big buttock muscle that most of us see as “The Butt.”  To easily answer the question of whether one should engage their buttocks or not when going into Urdva Danurasana, I would say yes of course. To be more specific, if you are trying to go into extension at the hip it is incredibly useful to employ the muscles that create that action. 

“Wait, why have people told me to relax my butt??”  The origin of this cue was based on the fact that so many people splay out their knees, which is a result of external rotation at the hip. One of the muscles that create external rotation at the hip is the Gluteus Maximus…yes, it performs both actions. So by trying to relax that muscle, you may not externally rotate as much. The issue with that is that the over external rotation is mostly a problem if you are using the deep external rotators of the buttocks – this could throw off the sacrum and cause the pinch in your upper pelvis, hip, or low back. 

My personal suggestion is simply to turn on your internal rotators, which are your outer gluteus muscles (gluteus medius and minimus), TFL, and Adductors (inner thigh muscles). Don’t worry, you don’t need to know these muscles in order to internally rotate your thighs. All you need to do is focus on pressing down through your inner heels and big toe mound. By focusing on pressing into your inner feet, you will undoubtedly turn on your internal rotators without compromising the extension at the hip that is gained from the Gluteus Maximus engagement.

With my mentorship students, I break down the difference between what I call Balancing Action and Fundamental Action. Knowing the difference makes it so much easier to know what is appropriate for yourself in any given posture. A Fundamental Action is any action that is required for the posture to exist. In the case of Urdva Danurasana, the Fundamental Action at the hips is Extension. Without the action of extension, your hips wouldn’t leave the ground. A balancing action is any action that is the opposite of the fundamental action, or the opposite of what the tendency is when creating the fundamental action. In this case, when creating the fundamental action of extension at the hips, the tendency will be to let the knees splay out to the sides (external rotation at the hips). A balancing action, in this case, is Internal Rotation at the hips which would keep the knees straight forward. Just to clarify, the direction of your knees isn’t the direct concern, it’s more about what is happening in the hips and sacrum that is of importance. 

Can you do Urdva Danurasana with externally rotated legs? Yes of course! Will it be good for you? That’s a great question, and dependent upon so many factors in your body. My suggestion is until you have a deep relationship with your body and know what is a good sensation and what is not good, simply stick to the balancing action of internal rotation at the thighs by pressing the inner heels down. 

I recognize this conversation is quite technical. If this was challenging to follow, simply watch the video to gain the visual aid as well. Enjoy strengthening and engaging your buttocks! If you are interested in learning more about techniques and anatomy, let’s set up a call to see if the Mentorship Mastery Program is right for you!

Hip extension

In order to go into hip extension in poses like Urdva Danurasana (full wheel pose) you will need to recruit your hip extensor muscles, which are located in the buttocks. By relaxing these muscles you are relying on your back muscles to do the heavy lifting.

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3 Steps to Activate the Buttocks

Step 1 - form The Arch

Forming the arch first is recommended prior to placing more force and pressure on the spine and hips. If you don’t feel a sense of spaciousness while lying on the ground, you certainly won’t feel it when applying more pressure. Often the inability to activate the transverse abdominals correlates with a lack of spaciousness between the vertebrae of the spine. Transverse abdominals cause the vacuum effect in the abdomen and typically make it easier to lengthen the solar plexus away from the pubic bone which is indicated with the smaller arrow. The larger arrow is to call your attention to the evenness of the curve. Most people place their backbend in just the mobile parts of their spine and doing so will simply exacerbate your patterns. Try to put less effort into the mobile areas, and more in the stiff areas.

Step 2: extension at the Hip

When doing postures like bridge and full wheel, this action is crucial in that it is what creates the pose. Without activating the buttocks you will be relying on your back muscles alone to lift your hips up and as a result, you will likely cause too much compression in the spine. This doesn’t mean that activating the buttock will be a magic pill but it will help to disperse the pressure. In addition, the buttock muscles are super important to our posture when walking, standing, and even sitting. Maintaining strength and awareness of what they do in the body is crucial to health and longevity. To make step three easier, it is helpful to think of pressing down through the inner heels however, if that feels too challenging, simply press the outer heels down first and then work step 3 second.

Step 3: Balancing Action

Internally rotating the thigh bones will balance out the external rotation that happens when pressing down into the heels. When pressing down you are activating the hip extensors, and since the extensors of the hip are also external rotators, the thighs will tend to externally rotate. There is nothing inherently wrong with this however, it could cause over-activation of some of the deep external rotators causing unnecessary tension in the hips or sacrum. Some people will also experience sacral pressure as a result of the force placed on the S.I (sacral-iliac) joint from extension and external rotation. By activating the internal rotators you can balance out the hip extension and maintain neutral rotation and likely find more ease in the S.I joint.

Releasing the Buttocks

One of the issues people experience after activating their buttocks is gripping sensation. This often happens when the muscles are weak and trying to find any way to engage. This goes away as the muscles get stronger but the easiest way to release this is a posture like pigeon pose to stretch these muscles after backbends. Pigeon pose is also wonderful in that it doesn’t overly round the spine after backbending which could otherwise be dangerous on the intervertebral discs.

Read Pigeon Without Knee Pain

Gravity: Not All Backbends Are the Same

The action of activating the buttock muscles here is most important in bridge and wheel pose because of the relationship to gravity. If we were doing something like bow pose it may still be beneficial to activate the buttocks, but chances are it won’t have the same effect and might even cause more compression on the spine. In that pose, the quads are typically more important because your hands are connected to your feet. When grabbing your feet for this posture, you will have activated the hamstrings and buttock already and the work in this posture will be lengthening the arch and finding an even disbursement of extension in the spinal column. This doesn’t mean you should not engage the buttocks, but in this case, your hands holding your feet are the cause for hip extension. For now use the tips in this blog for postures like full wheel and bridge, as well as the one leg up variations.

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deepen your yoga practice

deepen your yoga practice

DEEPEN YOUR YOGA PRACTICE  WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO DEEPEN YOUR YOGA PRACTICE, AND HOW TO DO IT?DEEPEN What Does it Mean to Deepen Your Yoga Practice?Have you ever seen a yoga event advertising, this will deepen your practice? Of course you have. Every teacher training,...

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Improve You Balance in Standing Postures

Improve You Balance in Standing Postures

Improve Balance In Standing Poses Focal Points of the Feet BALANCEYou Might Be Missing These 3 Key Components in the FeetStanding balance postures can sometimes be a source of frustration in our physical yoga practice. We all have moments like this on the mat and...

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Crow Pose tutorial for shoulder and core strength

Crow Pose tutorial for shoulder and core strength

Crow Pose Tutorial UPGRADE YOUR CROW POSE  SHOULDER ACTIONS FOR OPTIMIZING STRENGTHFULL WHEELCROW POSE TUTORIAL: FIND FULLNESS TO FIND STABILITYFinding fullness in our yoga practice usually starts with our connection to breath.  It’s not uncommon to take our time at...

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full wheel shoulder alignment elbows in or out

full wheel shoulder alignment elbows in or out

FULL WHEEL POSE STOP HUGGING THE ELBOWS IN SHOULDER ACTIONS FOR MAXIMUM FLEXIBILITYFULL WHEELFULL WHEEL POSE SHOULDER FLEXIBILITY,You may have noticed that full wheel pose is quite challenging, and you might think the issue is your back, core, or shoulder strength....

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full side plank and modifications

full side plank and modifications

Full Side Plank With Modifications STEP BY STEP VASHISTHASANA BREAKDOWNFULL SIDE PLANK pFULL SIDE PLANK & MODIFICATIONS: VASHISTHASANA USING THE WALL AS A PROP Full Side Plank (Vashisthasana) has many modification options and variations to help make it more...

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Eagle Pose technique how to double wrap the legs

Eagle Pose technique how to double wrap the legs

GARUDASANA - EAGLE POSE How to Double Wrap the LegsEagle Pose GARUDASANA - EAGLE POSE Why is it hard to double wrap the leg? Garudasana, known as Eagle Pose, is a challenging hip opener and hip strengthener. It's useful in developing balance, but for many people,...

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Hips: Rock & Unlock 'Em

Get 2 full hours with Matt Giordano focusing on the techniques that increase the range of motion in your hips and provide long lasting freedom. You will have immediate, unlimited access, and can enjoy the benefits today!

 

The Elements of Mastery

Are you looking to go deeper in your study of yoga and want an online resource to support you in your journey? This training packed with content to advance your practice and teaching! You can take your time or immerse yourself in the training.

 

Handstand Training

A long time best seller, this handstand training brings you the tools and training that are required for a masterful handstand. In this series  you will build strength in the areas of the body that actually matter, and learn the why and how with each step.

 

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