What Are The Tilts Of The Scapula?

What Are the Tilts of the Scapulae?

4 Postures to Help You Lock Into These Shoulder Actions

SHOULDER ROTATION

WHAT ARE THE TILTS OF THE SCAPULAE?

When we first dive into studying anatomy, it’s all about the basics. Once the foundation is laid, it becomes easier to scaffold more information. There will always be a learning curve, however, especially in the context of yoga. In Chromatic yoga, it’s about more than intellectually understanding anatomy; it’s also about how we integrate our knowledge of anatomy into our bodies from a non-dogmatic point of view.

When studying shoulder anatomy, we are introduced to the basic actions (protraction, retraction, depression, and elevation). In today’s clip, Matt introduces us to the idea of “the tilts of the scapulae.” He explains that it can be a difficult concept to understand, both intellectually and physically. Essentially, it requires the co-activation of opposing muscle groups in order to create a lock for maximum support around the shoulder girdle. We gain insight into the tilts of the scapulae via 4 postures in today’s video.

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    UPWARD VS. DOWNWARD TILT OF THE SCAPULA

    Upward Tilt

    To begin integrating the upward tilt of the scapula into our bodies, we can begin by sitting upright and sending the shoulder forward while drawing the elbow back. This naturally sends the scapula climbing up over the rib cage.  It’s the pectoralis minor that initiates this action. This muscle helps pull the shoulder down towards the front of the ribs.

    Downward Tilt

    This can be harder to understand and integrate. The first step here may be to draw the head of the humerus back. When this happens, the bottom wing tip of the scapula pushes forward into the rib cage.  

    If we pull the rib cage back into the scapulae, as Matt explains in the full class, this creates a “suction cup” effect from the co-activation of opposing muscle groups. This is effective in our yoga practice when stability is required in postures like Chaturanga and arm balances like Side Crow.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    WHAT ARE THE TILTS OF THE SCAPULAE?: 4 POSTURES TO LOCK IN ON THESE SHOULDER ACTIONS

    SIDE-ANGLE PREPARATION

    Part of integrating and understanding the upward and downward tilt of the scapulae is to explore the actions in postures in which we can remove some of the balance and strength elements from the equation. 

    When Matt demonstrates the downward tilt of the bottom scapula in Side-Angle Preparation, he explains that there is a distinction between where retraction and protraction take place. The initial action is still to pull the head of the humerus back, but understanding that there is a degree of retraction in the upper border of the scapula but protraction in the bottom wingtip helps us to negotiate its placement. We create the  protraction by pressing the elbow down into the top of the leg; this helps the bottom tip slide forward. From here, we can explore what the sensation feels like in order to record this pattern into our bodies.   

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    CHATURANGA AND JUMP BACKS

    In Chaturanga, it can be easy to fall into the pattern of allowing the head of the humerus to dip forward. When this happens, it’s very different from creating protraction. Repetitively allowing the head of the humerus to dip forward can cause strain in the anterior capsule of the shoulder. The goal is to create a play between the actions of external rotation of the humerus and protraction, depression, and retraction of the scapulae.  

    For Chaturanga Jump Backs, Matt presents a drill utilizing a towel. Again, we get an opportunity to practice the actions of external rotation of the arms, pulling the top of the arm bone back. Matt also reminds us that we can start by sending the scapulae into upward rotation to more distinctly feel the difference, and then execute the actions that will help us stabilize the jump back with the downward tilt of the scapulae. 

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    SIDE CROW

    In an arm balance like Side Crow, it’s imperative to feel more confident in our ability to “lock in” to the stability required. Because it’s required to send our weight forward in order to access the lift of the feet in the posture, we must be careful not to lean into an upward tilt—this would lead to imbalance in the posture and perhaps to a fall. In the clip, we see how the emphasis of pushing into the heel of the hands (which brings the bottom tip of the scapulae around) while sending the chest through (which draws the head of the arm bone back) and sending the weight forward into the fingers is ultimately what helps us access the balance required for Side Crow.

    ALLOW YOURSELF TIME FOR FULL INTEGRATION

    Ultimately, being patient enough to understand and integrate these actions will transform our experience in our practice. Exploring these actions in a variety of postures will take us on a journey of self discovery. We can tap into what comes naturally; at the same time, we can discover where we experience challenge and resistance. In the full class, Matt explains that upward and downward tilt of the scapulae can be difficult to comprehend. What this means is that it may require more persistence to uncover what is possible in our bodies.

    Register for Matt’s 2-hour online shoulder workshop, The Shoulder Reset, where there will be an abundance of opportunities to more deeply connect to and understand the biomechanics of the shoulders and how these new understandings can be applied to our yoga practice. 

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    Article by Trish Curling

    Videos Extracted From: Shoulder Revelation

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    What Are the Tilts of the Scapulae? 4 Postures to Help You Lock Into These Shoulder ActionsSHOULDER ROTATIONWHAT ARE THE TILTS OF THE SCAPULAE? When we first dive into studying anatomy, it’s all about the basics. Once the foundation is laid, it becomes easier to...

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    Headstand: Neck Relief

    Headstand: Neck Relief

    No More "Pain in the Neck"

     

    Intentional Practice

    For many years I split my yoga asana practice into two parts. On one side I dedicated my learning to the therapeutic qualities and on the other side advancing my practice. It was a while before I realized that they were one and the same and it took longer to realize that “advanced” transition could lead to greater ease and freedom. This video is born out of my understanding of what I used to consider to be just an advanced transition.

    Let’s touch briefly on the neck in headstand. I think we all know that putting our entire weight on our neck could obviously have its dangers. There are also many claimed benefits from it, some of which I agree with from my own experience. Headstand can be extremely empowering and freeing on an emotional level, and beyond that, it is a platform to build more strength and stability for the neck. In addition, going upside down in general can increase our proprioception (knowing where our body is in space). To be sure we are gaining all the benefits and not dealing with the potential downfalls of having all our weight on our neck, I find it beneficial to learn how to do headstand with our head off the ground. Some would call this forearm stand, some would argue it’s still headstand arms so it’s headstand…what you call it is not important, but having the strength and awareness definitely is beneficial.

    There are two main anatomical actions that I go over in this video:
    Elevation of the Scapula: Shoulder blades raise up toward the ears
    Extension at the Elbow Joint: The Elbow straightening.

    Elevation of the scapula is the main action in relieving neck pressure because when executed with enough strength, the head will lift off of the ground. Once you have the strength and control over the muscles that create elevation (mainly the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles) you will then have the choice of how much weight you place on your head. Trying to extend at the elbow joint can help maintain stability and balance as you elevate your scapula and can assist in rising away from the ground.

    The Actions

    In the video you will be provided with a visual demonstration of elevating the scapula with headstand arms. While you are reading this you can try elevating your scapula by shrugging your shoulders up by your ears. This action is remarkably easier when the arms are by your side in a resting position than when they are over head and bearing the weight of your body, but awareness of the action makes it a lot easier to attempt once you enter the position. Many yoga teachers will shun the idea of your shoulders rising up by the ears simply because it tends to be an unconscious pattern. Remember this pattern is not necessarily bad or good, it’s the unconscious part that is the problem. Another way to look at it is if we hold an equal and opposite pattern of elevated scapula then our shoulders would be balanced and relaxed. If you are someone whose shoulders rise toward your ears on a daily basis here are some things to consider.
    Your stress levels: If your shoulders are tensed up it could be an indication that your emotional body/nervous system is more often in the state of panic and your nervous system is sending signals to your muscles to hold tension because “something bad is going to happen.” There is no short answer for what to do but one-on-one coaching could help. I am happy to connect for a free Skype session to discuss some options with you.
    Strengthen the opposite muscles: In this case, do pull-ups and work on strengthening the muscles of depression.
    Strengthen to Release: It may sound strange but usually a muscle holding tension is not tense because it is strong, more likely because it is weak. Strengthening it can actually relax it. In this case, elevating your scapula will help strengthen the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles, and therefore could lead to releasing your neck tension!

    How to Strengthen

    There are multiple ways to strengthen the muscles that elevate the scapula and extend the elbow. In the video I offer a way to do so while approaching the pose. Dolphin pose (Down Dog on Forearms) is a great start for the more beginner practitioner. Check out the video and try the actions to feel it in your body. If you find it helpful and you are looking for more ways to strengthen your inversion practice Click Here to check out my top exercises for the arms, shoulders, wrists, and core!

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    1. Elevate Your Scapula

    Before going upside down and bearing weight, ensure that you have the range of motion in your shoulders to elevate your scapula with headstand arms – clasped fingers, bent elbows, arms overhead. Lift and lower your shoulders toward and away from your ears several times with your breath to awaken your trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. If this proves to be challenging it could be due to weakness in these muscles or tightness in the opposing muscles.  You could do some down dogs, or do the classic swimmers warm-up of windmilling one arm and then the other, backstroke is my preference. Also, check out the Handstand Training video for strength and mobility exercises for the shoulders.  

    3. Dolphin

    Take the next step by getting down into dolphin pose and working on elevating your scapula and depressing them a few times. It’s helpful to record yourself to see if you are accurately performing the action. This posture is great to work on tricep engagement. Press the outer wrists down into the ground until your feel the back of your arms tone up.

    2. Elbow Extension

    Extension of the elbow is seemingly easy when you look at it, and even when you do it without weight-bearing. However it’s not strength that usually stands in the way, but rather the ability to use the muscles for balance. This requires rapid reactivity, and the ability to feel when the body has fallen backward. The triceps in this type of headstand (less weight bearing on the neck) and forearm stand are equivalent to the fingers in a handstand, they are “the breaks” that stop you from falling. Try putting your forearm on a wall like a forearm plank, then push into the wall with the outer edge of your hand and wrist to activate the triceps. Increase the weight by walking your feet back and leaning your body more toward the wall.

    4. Tuck Headstand or Prep

    If you are confident in balancing a headstand you could then try these actions in a tuck headstand which keeps your center of gravity lower making it easier to maintain balance as you explore new techniques. Please use a wall or teacher for safety – elevating the scapula typically sends people overboard. If you aren’t yet balancing headstand, try the prep with feet on the ground shown above.

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    Neck Relief.

    There are two main reasons why elevating the scapula can help relieve the neck in a headstand. It can provide less compression on the cervical (neck) vertebrae, and it can allow for some of the stabilizer neck muscles to relax. That being said there can be benefits to strengthening the stabilizers of the neck, so doing a headstand with less elevation of the scapula isn’t inherently wrong or bad unless you are experience pain or discomfort when doing so.

    The approach to headstand relies heavily on the strength of the upper fibers of your trapezius muscles which tend to be tense but also weak in many people. The common question that arises is, “my shoulders are always up by my ears, shouldn’t I relax them?” Of course the answer is yes but there is a time and place for everything. Spend the majority of your day learning to let go of unconscious tension, and a small amount of time you spend in headstand, handstand, or forearm stand focusing on the intentional engagement of these muscles. A healthy trapezius is actually less likely to hold tension. More often than not we hold tension in muscles that we don’t have much awareness of. Tension in the way I am using the word right now is more likely the result of emotional stress than it is of too much strength or activity.

    Thank you for stopping by, I hope these tips help. If you have questions, requests, or something you would like to share about your headstand journey please submit a comment.

    -Matt

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