Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

Chaturanga Alignment Part 2

3 Steps to Apply Shoulder Actions

Integrating Shoulder Actions

Integrating the 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions into your practice can be complicated, so to help you I have come up with 3 Steps to Master your Chaturanga. If you haven’t yet watched Chaturanga Alignment: 3 Necessary Shoulder Actions  then it is best to start there and come back to this afterwards. The 3 step process will help you develop “Muscle Intelligence” or the awareness of how to create specific actions in your body to find less complicated positions which require less strength and give you the space to explore new sensations. If done consecutively these steps will build the strength over time that will make chaturanga feel light and free.

Most of us sitting at our computers are not able to get up and start practicing, but if you do have the liberty of doing so, practice along with this video. If not then simply watch and come back to it at another time so you can practice along – this is meant to help you apply the actions not just understand them.

Be patient with yourself as you work through each of the exercises – techniques take time to embody.

The Intention 

Perhaps the most confusing thing in the yoga community is the myriad of opinions about how to do each pose. Part of the reason for this is the differences each of us have from body type, to personality, to experience. Additionally, however,  each of us offering a path has a different intention behind our set of alignment cues or muscle actions. It is for this reason that I want to be clear that this is only one approach, and I am happy to provide for you the benefits and the challenges that come with this way. This approach to Chaturanga comes with the intention to build strength in multiple forearm muscles, the seratus anterior, triceps, external rotators of the the humerus, and the pectorals major. With all of these muscles working together to build strength you will inevitably feel more stable and light in your chaturanga and jump back to chaturanga, and also you will be well prepared for arm balances. If you have no intention of building strength in your upper body or practicing arm balances, there might be better ways of practicing Chaturanga. If you have a movement pattern that does not allow you to do protraction without upward tilt of the scapula then you might be better suited to a softer approach for a while. If you are experiencing chronic strain or compression in your wrist joints you may find leaning back in your chaturanga may be either better or worse for you. I mention this not to deter you from fully understanding and integrating this approach to chaturanga, but to help you to understand that there is never and will never be one correct approach to anything. What is good for you now may not be good for you later, and what was good for you yesterday may not be good for you today. This may be hard to grasp but if you try to keep an open mind and let yourself explore various approaches with the utmost attention to detail, you may find a greater sense of mastery in your body than you could ever find by doing one posture “the right way”. If you are ready to build strength, and/or set your self up for arm balances and jump backs then let’s get started together!

From Chaturanga to ARm Balances

Because the majority of the arm balances do not require the elbow joint to be bent at 90 degrees I recommend practicing Chaturanga in the same way. Rather than bending the elbows so the shoulders are at the same height as the elbows, keep the elbows  straighter with only a small bend .

 

3 Step Integration

When learning to integrate new muscle engagements or structural alignments into your practice, it is beneficial to simulate the shape with less stress on the muscles and joints. This usually entails changing your relationship to gravity. In the video, and in the 3 steps below I show you how to do this by doing chaturanga at the wall first, and then on your knees before trying the full posture. Doing these steps often provides a greater proficiency than simply trying it all out right away. This is because your body will always fall into its normal patterns when it’s asked to hold all your weight. We have to shake things up a bit to learn something new. 

Step 1 - Chaturanga at The Wall

Regardless of your level, doing chaturanga at the wall and applying the three shoulder actions is huge in helping build masterful proprioception. This is the most important step in my eyes, especially since you’ll have plenty of time in class to practice step 2 and 3. Taking all the weight off of your body and just applying the actions until it is fully integrated and completely clear in both mind and body will be the best thing you can do. Mastery is not about halfway getting something, but rather nailing it down so that it will never be forgotten regardless of how long you leave the subject of study. Rock this exercise several times for several days/weeks and you will be well set up for building strength rapidly. Strength builds rapidly when our actions are precise in our body.

Step 2: Chaturanga on Knees

To be honest, when I take a vinyasa class I do the first 5-10 chaturangas on my knees to get my body and mind linked together prior to floating back. Chaturanga on the knees is a great way to practice the actions with slightly less body weight. This is where you will begin building muscles appropriately, so be as precise and mindful as possible so you are strengthening the muscles required for the 3 shoulder actions. My best advice is start with your shoulders a little bit past the wrists to simulate the leaning forward when coming from plank. With your knees on the ground you can’t actually shift forward so you’ll have to begin by placing your knees closer to your wrists than you normally would. Second, make sure you create one long line from shoulders to knees, without breaking at the hips.

Step 3: Plank To Chaturanga

When attempting full chaturanga with a block, it becomes easier to compensate and “fake it” and either over engage in muscles that are not efficient for the actions, or simply getting caught up in compression – placing your bones in the way of the movement in order to slow the movement down – SEE  FIRST VIDEO when I talk about “Upward Tilt” of the scapula.

Mastering these shoulder actions will not only make your practice of chaturanga easier and more enjoyable, but will open up a whole new world of power and strength in your arm balances.

If you find yourself struggling to integrate the actions in this version I highly recommend focusing on the first two options for about 3-5 months and then coming back to this. 

Complexity

The shoulders are incredibly complex and as a result it takes quite a lot of self practice and study to gain any sort of mastery.  I break things down into small steps so that you are able to integrate the actions in your body more easily, however these steps are just the beginning. Let these actions settle into your body over time; rather than forcing them into every chaturanga, pick one acrtion to focus on in your classes and first observe what you are doing before you make changes. little by little try to apply the action and notice what it feels like each time. This is a highly effective approach that build patterns in the body and awareness in the mind. If you are interested in more shoulder strengtheners and stretches check out the Handstand Training, it comes with several videos that directly target the shoulders. Thank you for stopping by, please share your comments, questions, or requests for other blog topics!

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Arm Balances: Protraction Action

arm Balances: Protraction

Finding Ease and Lightness in Arm Balances

 

Targeted Strength

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 ta physically in shape gym goer walk in to 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.

Seratus 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 muscles 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 to contracting when they are fully shortened. Think of your bicep muscle- Isn’t it easier to hold a weight in your hand when your you hand is closest to your shoulder vs half way down at the “holding a tray” position. Part of this is 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 its easier to do a little tiny pull up vs going through 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 check out the Handstand Strength Training.

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 mid section 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 roll that your legs play within all arm balances. I will be releasing another video on Youtube soon showing you how the legs relate 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 its more important to have core intelligence then strength. A little strength and a lot of awareness go a very long way, much further then 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 (I 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!

 

Plank at the Wall

Taking plank at the wall is one of the best ways to truly develop a proprioception for protracting the shoulder blades. As mentioned in the video protraction is when you push the shoulder blades a part from one another, and they move around your rip 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 the strength.

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 such as the poses. 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. 

Crow With Protraction and flexion

Putting the two actions together might sound complicated but actually the two actions go hand in hand. Protraction makes spinal flexion easier to access and visa versa. I recommend first trying this in plank posture. If you haven’t yet watch the two blogs on Chaturanga, this is the best place to start for integrating protraction into your arm balances. After you’ve worked with chaturanga, if you feel confident balancing crow, than 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 ok 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 feed back loop in our body from thought to action to sensation and back again. Once that feed back 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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Headstand: Neck Relief

Headstand: Kneck Relief

Stop being a "Pain in the Neck"

 

Intentional Practice

For many years I split my yoga asana practice in to 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 in 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 understand of what I used to consider to be just an advanced transition.

Lets 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 its still headstand arms so its 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 your 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 what the action is 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 a pattern is not necessarily bad, or good, its 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, than our shoulders would be balanced and relaxed. So if you are someone who’s 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 week. Strengthening it can actually relax it. In this case elevating your scapula will help strengthen the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles, and therefor 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!

Want more Free education? Check out Headstand: 3 Ways In

 

1. Elevate Your Scapula

Before going upside down and bearing weight, insure that you have the range of motion in your shoulders to elevate your scapula with headstand arms – clasped fingers, bend elbows, arms over head. Lift and lower you shoulders toward and away from your ears several times with your breath to awaken your trapezius and serious anterior muscles. If this proves to be challenging it could be do 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 than the other, back stroke 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 video 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 its 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 balancing a headstand you could then try these action 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 over board. If you aren’t yet balancing headstand, try the prep with feet on the ground shown above. 

Neck Relief. 

There are two main reasons elevating that 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 arrises is, “my shoulders are always up buy 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 the small amount of time you spend in headstand, handstand, or forearm stand focusing on 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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THANKS FOR JOINING

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!

 

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When You Subscribe You Will Instantly Get Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
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