Crow Pose On Blocks

Crow Pose on Blocks

Take Your Shoulder Stability to New Heights

STABILITY

CROW POSE 

It’s not unusual to have a healthy amount of fear and hesitation when it comes to finding balance in crow pose: Will I fall? Am I strong enough? Will I hurt myself? One of the most amazing things about an asana practice, however, is how we learn so much about our bodies. We learn through exploration. When you have a teacher like Matt, he not only provides inspiration to explore, but through his extensive knowledge of the body, he offers a myriad of specific actions for you to experiment with that allow you to move towards a desired result. In today’s video, Matt demonstrates the dual action for you to take for improved shoulder stability in Crow Pose. The use of yoga blocks in this variation of the pose serves as an excellent support to take your shoulder stability to new heights.

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HYPERMOBILE VS. HYPOMOBILE

Whether you are hypermobile or hypomobile, working on stability in your yoga practice is a must. What’s the difference between the two?  “Joint hypermobility is a clinical condition in which the joints move beyond the expected physiological range of motion.” When this is the case, understanding your body and knowing your individual “end range” can help you know when to pull back in order to minimize instability and possible injury. On the other hand, hypomobility means that there is a decrease and a significant limitation in the range of motion that is actually possible within a specific joint. When it comes to the shoulders, both states are common, and both have the potential to result in pain. It may seem counterintuitive to work on stability when hypomobile, because you may associate the toughness or rigidity with stability. Stability is just part of the equation when developing healthy muscle tissue, but it is an important part of the equation.  

Atici A, Aktas I, Akpinar P, Ozkan FU. The relationship between joint hypermobility and subacromial impingement syndrome and adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. North Clin Istanb. 2018 Sep;5(3):232-237. doi: 10.14744/nci.2017.35119. PMID: 30688930; PMCID: PMC6323568.

WATCH THE VIDEO: CROW POSE ON BLOCKS

SHOULDER STABILITY

An essential part of shoulder stability happens when the muscles around the glenohumeral joint (rotator cuff muscles) have the ability to contract and help the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) stay centered and secure in the joint. Having the ability to contract means that these muscles actually have less rigidity; it means that there is a suppleness to the tissues which allows them to contract, expand, move, and glide as they should. An arm balance like Crow Pose requires a sizable amount of shoulder stability.

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THE 2 MAIN ACTIONS

The actions Matt demonstrates in the video for shoulder stability in Crow Pose are protraction and external rotation. He explains that in scapular protraction, the tendency will be to internally rotate the humerus; however, if you can externally rotate the arm bones while in protraction, it will create a vast amount of shoulder stability in your arm balances. There’s actually a counteraction taking place. The goal is to apply these two actions simultaneously. Matt teaches us that internal rotation is fine—it’s actually something we want—but in the context of this arm balance, if you counteract the protraction with external rotation, there will be a tremendous amount of muscle activation that surrounds the joints. This in turn translates into better stability and better balance.

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IMPLEMENT THESE KEY ACTIONS FOR CROW POSE ON BLOCKS

Executing Crow Pose on blocks is not as simple as only doing the 2 actions (protraction and external rotation) for the shoulders, but bringing your focus and attention here might just be what is missing from actually realizing your full potential in the posture.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stack 2 blocks horizontally on their first height
  2. Place your hands wide on the ground, just ahead of the blocks
  3. Step onto the blocks 
  4. Lower your hips down towards your heels
  5. Take your knees wide and out to the sides (*The height of the blocks allow you to have a better handle on allowing your shins the space to rest on the upper arms for better support)
  6. Squeeze legs into the chest
  7. Get your fingers active (grip the ground)
  8. Lean forward into fingers
  9. Rotate elbows in (external rotation of the humerus)
  10.  Squeeze knees in towards your midline (activating the adductor muscles)
  11. Push the floor away to protract the scapulae more (round your back more)

TAKEAWAYS

What you end up finding out about your body is whether or not your proprioception is accurate: Is your physical body able to respond to the cues so as to follow through with these actions? Do you require more strength? This helps you to map out your next steps and course of action.

A good step in the right direction is to sign up for Matt’s Shoulder Mobility immersion. In this immersion, you’ll learn more about how to strengthen key muscles of the shoulders. Matt also be teaches techniques that assist in increasing both active and passive range of motion.

See you on the mat!

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Shoulder Revelation Immersion

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Take Flight in Crow Pose

TAKE FLIGHT IN CROW POSE

Strengthen Your Wrists

KAKASANA

WHAT IS THE SECRET TO TAKING FLIGHT IN CROW POSE?

In order to take flight in Crow Pose, it may seem obvious that a great deal of emphasis needs to be placed on your hands, but what often happens is that a great deal of attention is placed elsewhere.

When you think about Crow Pose—Bakasana—you may first think about what you need to do to either strengthen and/or activate the core. This is true, but how often do you think about what is necessary for your hands, wrists, and forearms? This part of your body plays a vital role not only in whether you will find enough strength to sustain the posture for any length of time but also in protecting your wrists overall.  

A great deal of time is spent in wrist extension in yoga. Most commonly, you see varying degrees of this in postures like the following: 

  • Variations of Plank/Vasisthasana 
  • Chaturanga Dandasana 
  • Fallen Angel (Devaduuta Panna Asana)
  • Variations of Crow (Bakasana) 

Matt talks a lot about starting postures from the ground up, and in Bakasana, this couldn’t be more true. You are balancing your entire body weight on your hands/wrists, so creating a solid foundation with your hands/wrists/forearms is non-negotiable. There are also actions in the hands that are mimicked/duplicated in the rest of your body as you layer on each action in the posture. You will see how everything is so closely related in Matt’s demonstration.

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    THE BALANCE BETWEEN WRIST FLEXORS AND EXTENSORS

    When you understand how your body is working in each posture, it becomes a lot easier to see exactly how much everything is connected and how that both influences and supports the rest of your body parts in activating and responding the way you would like and need them to for stronger execution.

    Because you spend a lot of time in wrist extension in yoga, the wrist extensors (which are located on the back side of the forearms) are often shortened, and the flexors of the wrist (located on the front of the forearms) are in a more lengthened position. It’s imperative that these muscles be strong enough to, as Matt puts it, “apply the brakes” in arm balances. 

    Sending your weight forward is required in Crow Pose, so the strength of the “opposing action,” or creating an eccentric contraction of the flexors of the wrist to almost pull you back (that “application of the brakes” if you will), is in essence doing the work of keeping you balanced in the pose. Without this opposition or strength of the wrist flexors, you would just continue to go forward and then downward with gravity and eventually fall.

    So how do you activate and strengthen the flexors of the wrist? If you’ve practiced with Matt before, you’ll know that he often refers to creating a “suction cupping” of space, or a Hasta Bandha in the hands (an energetic hollow-like quality in the center of the palms). 

    “Hasta Bandha (Hand Lock) assists energy up through the soft center of your palms to bring strength and stability to your arms and upper body.”

    Ekhar, Esther, The Bandha Approach You Haven’t Tried—That Could Change Everything, Yoga Journal, February 28, 2018

    FOCUS ON YOUR HANDS

    In Crow Pose and other arm balances like it, the more you lean forward, the more you are required to grip the fingers into the ground in order to achieve the appropriate activation.

    Let’s look at some of the anatomy first.

    Your carpals are all of the tiny bones at the wrist (base of the palm), and the carpal tunnels are the space for the nerves to go through.

    When it comes to the hands in Crow Pose and other arm balances, we want to be lighter in the carpals (with less pressure, pulled away from the ground, due to the nerve lines that are present). In opposition to this, we want to get stronger and push into the ground at the head of the metacarpals (this is the surface/place you might describe as the knuckles or where the fingers [phalanges] meet the upper portion of the palm.)

    You achieve this action by drawing the pinky and the thumb towards each other and down into the ground at the same time. This action can also be described as adduction (pulling in towards the midline of the palm). At the same time, the 3 fingers (pad of the index, middle, and pinky) are also pulling towards the palm of the hand.

    This is creating a generous amount of activation and therefore strengthening of the flexors of the wrist (flexor digitorum profundus and superficialis). Although there are many other muscles involved (both flexors and extensors) that are co-activating, these are 2 that are great to keep in mind because the flexor digitorum profundus attaches all the way down to the fingers. This muscle also works in conjunction with the flexor carpi radialis and the flexor digitorum superficialis (as previously mentioned).  

    This fact demonstrates how essential it is, for your practice, to get into deeper awareness and connection with your body in an anatomical sense. This reinforces that nothing works in isolation and that one part of the body, one action, creates a domino effect for other activations, movements, and strengthening to occur.

    WATCH THE VIDEO: STRENGTHEN YOUR WRISTS FOR CROW POSE

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    STRENGTHEN YOUR WRISTS IN CROW POSE WITH BLOCKS

    Let’s now take the deeper awareness and solid foundation of the hands and create the domino effect with the rest of the body in Crow Pose. In today’s video, Matt demonstrates how helpful blocks are when it comes to strengthening the flexors of the wrist. If flying is not your thing, or it’s just not your thing within a specific practice, you can still work on strengthening the flexors of the wrist by using a set of yoga blocks under your feet and leaning your bodyweight for more extension in the wrists.

    Here are the steps Matt outlines in today’s video:

    1. Place your feet up on the blocks
    2. Take your hands out in front, grip the ground with fingers (using all of the actions previously outlined) 
    3. Place knees outside of the arms and squeeze into arms (mimicking the action of the pinky and thumb drawing towards one another)
    4. Lift bum up to sky
    5. Lean bodyweight forward (increased wrist extension and eccentric contraction of the flexors)
    6. *Now bring your awareness back to the hands; play with the fingers—grip the ground, press through metacarpals, lean forward, and keep strong in the flexors of the wrist 
    7. Bonus is to lift the heels of feet towards bum to fly
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    THE BIG PICTURE—TAKE FLIGHT IN CROW POSE

    1.  Squeeze knees into the arms
    2.  Protract the shoulder blades 
    3.  Grip fingers into the ground

    Inviting in what may be some new actions to this posture, or to any other posture where the wrists are in extension in your physical yoga practice, helps to create a new muscular pattern. Repeating these actions will help your brain allow you to more easily default to these actions and therefore find the strength, ease, and lightness that’s desired in any arm balance.

      PARALLELS BETWEEN CROW POSE & HANDSTAND

      The beautiful thing about creating these patterns in your body and practicing the proper mechanics in Crow Pose is that these same mechanics translate quite well into other arm balances. 

      If you take a look at my previous article,  Kick Up Into Handstand, you’ll see exactly how Matt guides you through the same preparation for the wrists and forearms. You’ll see the importance of gripping the ground, the same alignment for the forearms, and the negotiation of the shift in weight required to balance (the balance of strength between the wrist flexors and extensors)—the same actions and techniques that help you to take flight in Crow Pose are the same fundamentals that help you see success and that assist with the crossover from one arm balance to another.

      Matt’s next Immersion, Handstand and Meditation, offers you an incredible opportunity to work on these fundamentals time and time again. You can also dive deeper into these teachings in his next 200 & 300 Hour Teacher Trainings.

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        Arm Balances: Protraction Action

        arm Balances: Protraction

        Finding Ease and Lightness in Arm Balances

         

        ARM BALANCE STRENGTH BUILDING

        Most who practice yoga have come to realize that the practice requires a certain physical strength that doesn’t necessarily coincide with the image of strength in our head. Every yogi has seen a physically in-shape gym goer walk into a yoga class and struggle in his/her first down dog. The reason for this is because there are tons of muscles in the body, and all of them have a purpose. The ones you see on the surface are called the superficial muscles, and their job is primarily to create big movements like swinging a baseball bat, jumping, climbing, etc. While many Yoga postures and transitions require the use of these muscles, the Deep muscles or stabilizing muscles are often most used. In this video, I go over the muscle groups that I find are most important for the majority of arm balances.

        Serratus Anterior

        The muscles I speak of in this video are the Serratus Anterior, and the 4 layers of abdominals (rectus abdominis, external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominis). Serratus Anterior is incredibly important for many arm balances because it creates stability in the shoulder blades and moves the body away from the ground. In the “Handstand Strength Training” video I give exercises in plank pose to help students develop the strength of this muscle. When this muscle is fully engaged in plank the body is further away from the ground. The same is true in arm balances. Further from the ground begins to feel lighter and easier, and as mentioned in the video above, your wrists will feel better as well. The reason you feel lighter and more at ease when the Serratus Anterior is fully engaged is simple- all muscles have an easier time contracting when they are fully shortened. Think of your bicep muscle; isn’t it easier to hold a weight in your hand when your hand is closest to your shoulder vs halfway down at the “holding a tray” position. Part of this is the relationship to gravity but even if you changed the angle of your body that would still be the easiest position for the muscles to be engaged. This is the same reason why it’s easier to do a little tiny pull-up vs going through the full range of motion from straight arms all the way up to bent arms. If you are looking to build strength in the Serratus Anterior I suggest checking out either “The Breakthrough” or “The Chakras and The Elements”. Both immersion focus on strength building for arm balances. 

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        Arm Balances: The Core

        The four abdominals have multiple functions including flexion (rounding) of the spine, twisting, side bending, stabilizing, and compressing/lifting inner organs (primarily the transverse abdominis). Depending on the pose, many arm balances require one or more abdominals to engage because of the shape, and because they have the ability to make the midsection more compact. The more compact you feel, the lighter you will feel because all the extremities tend to pull in closer to the center of gravity when the abdominals engage. What I am not going over in this video is the important role that your legs play within all arm balances. I will be releasing another video on Youtube soon showing you how the legs relate to the core. If you are interested in finding out when that video goes up, subscribe to my newsletter and I will let you know. Developing strength in the abdominals has long been a part of the fitness industry, but until recently it was purely for visual purposes. Most people associate having a six-pack with health, but the reality is that it’s more important to have core intelligence than strength. A little strength and a lot of awareness go a very long way, much further than a lot of strength and little awareness of how to use it. Developing strength through applied actions such as doing handstand, crow pose, or exercises that produce greater intelligence in your body is what I focus on in my handstand and arm balance practice. As a result not only do I feel strong in my asana practice but my back feels great, and I am able to apply the awareness to other activities that require body intelligence. For my favorite core strengtheners you click here, or if you are looking for free ways to learn, simply search youtube for how to strengthen the 4 muscles of the core (searching each muscle separately). Anyone who offers an application for the strength and not just the exercise is likely thinking along the same lines of “muscle intelligence” vs strength. Remember you want to know what the muscle does intellectually and know what it feels like in your body. That combination will make it easier to apply later on to your practice!

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        arm balance strength for shoulders

        Plank at the Wall

        Taking plank at the wall is one of the best ways to truly develop proprioception for protracting the shoulder blades. As mentioned in the video protraction is when you push the shoulder blades apart from one another and they move around your rib cage. This is an activation of the serratus anterior muscles which tend to require strengthening for most people. At the wall, you can focus on the action without the requirement of strength.

        arm balance strength for crow pose

        Flexion of the Spine

        Flexion of the spine in arm balances requires the muscular activation of the rectus abdominals, obliques, and likely the deep core muscles. While it is possible to do arm balances with the core completely relaxed and still hold the postures, it tends to be easier with the recruitment of them. To develop strength in your core, I highly recommend my top exercises on the Handstand Training video. 

        arm balance strength of the core

        Crow With Protraction and flexion

        Putting the two actions together might sound complicated but the two actions actually go hand in hand. Protraction makes spinal flexion easier to access and vice versa. I recommend first trying this in plank posture. If you haven’t yet watched the two blogs on Chaturanga, this is the best place to start integrating protraction into your arm balances. After you’ve worked with chaturanga, if you feel confident balancing crow then you can try applying these actions.

        First Awareness, Then Strength.

        It’s easy to try and jump ahead and go straight to our most challenging arm balance posture and try to apply new actions to it. This approach is okay but if you find that you are not getting it or not feeling a difference, it’s likely because your body needs to develop an awareness around the action itself before it can build strength. We need to create the feedback loop in our body from thought to action to sensation and back again. Once that feedback loop is established, strength can be built through repetition.

        Thanks for joining me here. I hope these tips help with your practice and/or your teaching. Please share your comments, questions, or requests and I will get back to you.

        -Matt

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