King Pigeon Variations

King Pigeon Variations

Full Body Awareness for Your Shoulders

mobility

KING PIGEON

If you’ve practiced with Matt before, you’ll be aware of the domino effect or the ripple effect of how a yoga posture unfolds. Matt brilliantly breaks down every pose with care and intricate detail. This helps you not only to understand a pose intellectually but also to physically feel this unfolding take place in your body; it’s like the satisfaction you feel when you hear the snap of the correct puzzle piece connecting into the right place. King Pigeon is a perfect example of this unfolding. One action intimately informs the next.

SHOULDER MOBILITY

Access Your Active Range of Motions

  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Decrease risk of injury
  • Release shoulder tension
  • Learn anatomy and biomechanics
  • Access a wider range of postures
  • Stabilize the rotator cuff muscles
  • Learn binds, heart openers, and arm balances
  • 12 all-levels, 75-minute online classes
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

SHOULDER ACTIONS

At first glance, it appears that a great deal of shoulder flexion is required for King Pigeon Pose. That’s not false, but there is more to that than meets the eye. The setup of King Pigeon additionally requires shoulder extension, elevation, a balance between internal and external rotation, and retraction of the scapulae. In other words, it can appear and/or even feel quite complex because there are a lot of muscle engagements and contracting actions taking place. More specifically, it’s how these actions are carried out.  

If you’re not familiar with how Matt teaches Downward-Facing Dog, you should check out my previous article, Downward-Facing Dog Shoulder Alignment. There are parallels that are extremely helpful. Once you are in King Pigeon, the key to safer alignment is the elevation of the shoulders and then the pulling of the armpits back (hollowing of the armpits). These 2 actions take place in Downward-Facing Dog in order to help to minimize the possibility of shoulder impingement. In King Pigeon, these actions will also help to create greater shoulder mobility while reducing the potential for pain in the front of the shoulders and in the upper trapezius.

WATCH THE VIDEO

KING PIGEON: FULL BODY AWARENESS FOR YOUR SHOULDERS

MORE THAN THE SHOULDERS

In order to diminish potential strain or pain in the shoulders, there are other actions and muscle activations that also hold great importance. Understanding the rest of the posture will help you to find more ease in your execution. For example, creating a more robust backbend (spinal extension) will help reduce the amount of pressure in the shoulders. This will of course require the activation and then stretching/opening of the chest.

One of the most valuable actions is actually the pressing forward of the inner elbow. This is the catalyst for the external rotation that brings the arms up into flexion. When the arms are here, the armpits lift and pull back, through which, with awareness and intention, you can actively create scapular retraction (activation of the rhomboids, upper & middle trapezius, and rear deltoid muscles). Let’s look at the ripple effect.

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KING PIGEON WITH A YOGA STRAP

(Right leg in front)

  1. Come into Pigeon Pose. A block underneath the right-side buttock is a great reminder and support to keep the hips more leveled. You can still stabilize and be intentional about activating the glute muscles.
  2. Loop a strap around your foot.
  3. Grab the strap with your  left hand (palm facing up).
  4. Turn your chest towards your foot.
  5. Do a side bend by sending the right ribs forward.
  6. Use hamstrings to pull your foot closer.
  7. Pull your elbow in. 
  8. Rotate the arm so it is externally rotated.
  9. Elbow comes up.
  10. Once the elbow is by your face, you can close/turn the pelvis.
  11. Lift your hips up.
  12. Grab the strap with other hand.

It’s almost like a checklist—once you have completed one action, you will see how the others intuitively get checked off and naturally fall into place; in other words, once you maintain the side bend and pull your foot closer, your elbow will naturally pull in closer to your body.

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KING PIGEON WITHOUT A STRAP

(Left leg forward)

This variation will require deeper spinal extension and more shoulder mobility. Following Matt’s Chromatic formula (the layering of actions) helps you to move towards the reality of achieving the posture. In the video, you’ll see directly how with each step taken, the body reacts.

Here are the steps:

  1. With a block under the left side buttock, come into Pigeon Pose.
  2. Turn towards your right foot to grab hold with the right hand (palm facing up with foot flexed and toes turned away from your midline).
  3. Turn the chest and lift the hips up.
  4. The elbow now comes in close to the body.
  5. Rotate the arm into external rotation.
  6. The chest goes forward significantly.
  7. Other hand also comes around to grab the foot.

King Pigeon is not a posture to jump into! It demands awareness, patience, and understanding. Full-body awareness is the key to unlocking access to this posture.

There is still time to join in on the Shoulder Mobility immersion. Practicing these classes will help to close the gap between what can seem like overwhelm—in more advanced postures like King Pigeon—and a deeper understanding of your own body in these postures.

See you on the mat!

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Shoulder Revelation

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Reverse Plank Pose

Reverse Plank Pose

Scapular Retraction For Back Strength

PURVOTTANASANA

REVERSE PLANK POSE

Asymmetry is a common issue when it comes to our asana practice. Opportunities to work on strengthening muscles in the back body are much more infrequent than opportunities to strengthen our front body. Improving mobility and strength in the shoulders for a posture like Reverse Plank has a direct influence on strengthening the back body. Reverse Plank is a posture that is easily neglected, but as Matt stresses in today’s video, it’s probably one of the most important postures we can include in our asana practice.  

It’s easy to spend a considerable amount of time in Plank Pose and/or use it as a transition in a given asana practice, but we don’t necessarily flip it very often. Flipping the pose upside down and incorporating Reverse Plank into our practice can create extremely therapeutic effects.

SHOULDER MOBILITY

Access Your Active Range of Motions

  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Decrease risk of injury
  • Release shoulder tension
  • Learn anatomy and biomechanics
  • Access a wider range of postures
  • Stabilize the rotator cuff muscles
  • Learn binds, heart openers, and arm balances
  • 12 all-levels, 75-minute online classes
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

THERAPEUTIC OUTCOMES

If you spend a lot of time with a rounded spine, it’s easy to default into that shape on a regular basis. Even if you attempt to offset your body positioning to open up the chest and come into a more upright or even a backbend position, it can feel abnormal and/or hard to sustain. When this is the case, it can lead to things like chronic neck and back pain.

In the very first class from the Shoulder Mobility immersion, Matt explains about how the muscles of the back body are commonly underused. We can see this not only in our yoga practice but also in everyday activities off of the yoga mat. Increasing attention and action in this area of the body can help us reap the therapeutic benefits that are available. 

WATCH THE VIDEO: REVERSE PLANK POSE FOR BACK STRENGTH

WHY BACK STRENGTH IS IMPORTANT

Seems like common sense to know that any type of strength development in the body is not only important but essential. Unfortunately, we don’t always seek or develop balanced strength within our bodies when it comes to our asana practice. It’s human nature to resist things that bring challenge, and engaging the muscles in the back body can be tiring and difficult. The action of drawing the shoulder blades together feels good because it offsets forward shoulder-rounding and increases the stretch in the pectoral muscles. The pectoral muscles spend a lot of time in a shortened position, so retraction of the scapulae in poses like Reverse Plank creates the desired length and stretch in the front body.

Retraction of the scapulae will help strengthen the rhomboid muscles and the middle fibers of the trapezius. This is important because it informs the quality of your daily posture.

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  • Learn techniques for a wide range of yoga postures
  • Get certified and highly qualified to teach yoga
  • Yoga Alliance Globally Recognized Certification Program

HAND VARIATIONS IN REVERSE PLANK

In the video, Matt offers both reverse side plank and reverse table top.  Within the exploration of these variations, you’ll find different ways to place your hands.  The reason why this is so important is because a specific hand position might be more suitable for your current state of shoulder mobility.  It also  provides opportunities for you to retract the scapula from both internal and external rotation of the upper arm bones (humerus).  This can help with a better understanding of how to isolate the area of the rhomboids and trapezius.  Specific actions like pulling the hands towards one another and/or apart can help to activate the rear deltoids as well.  

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  • Learn anatomy, biomechanics, asana techniques
  • Expand your teaching skills
  • Masterful sequencing and verbal delivery
  • Learn meditation and breathwork techniques
  • Transformative tools: theming, dharma talks, satsang
  • Business, branding, marketing, and social media skills

REVERSE PLANK POSE SET UP

  1. Find a seated position with legs stretched out ahead of you and fingers pointing towards heels (internal rotation of upper arm bone)
  2. Lift shoulders up to the ears 
  3. Pull shoulders back
  4. Move chest forward (increases activation of back muscles)
  5. Feet flexed or pointed
  6. Press down through heels (using glute, back, and shoulder muscles to lift up into plank)

You can see that Matt goes into great detail with each action, helping you to maximize the benefit of generating strength in your back.  Retraction of the scapula is much more than just pulling your shoulder blades together if you’d like to actually see a difference in your posture and reduction of pain.

Matt’s Shoulder Mobility immersion continues for the month of November.  Register now and you’ll be able to practice live for the rest of the month, or practice the classes in your own time.  You’ll have lifetime access to all 12 classes once complete.

See you on the mat!

The 200 Hr. Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

The 300 Hr. Advanced Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Shoulder Mobility

UPCOMING TEACHER TRAININGS

NEXT TRAINING BEGINS FEBRUARY 26, 2023 ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN
NEXT TRAINING  BEGINS FEBRUARY 18, 2023. ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN

Continue Learning

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read more
King Pigeon Variations

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King Pigeon Variations Full Body Awareness for Your ShouldersmobilityKING PIGEON If you’ve practiced with Matt before, you’ll be aware of the domino effect or the ripple effect of how a yoga posture unfolds. Matt brilliantly breaks down every pose with care and...

read more
Reverse Plank Pose

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read more
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THE FREE TECHNIQUE PACK

When You Subscribe You Will Get Instant Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts
  • Exclusive Blogs and Videos
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Side Angle Pose

Side Angle Pose

Shoulder Fix at the Wall

upward rotation

SIDE ANGLE POSE

Stop for a moment and think about how many times you lift your arms overhead in any given asana practice. There are plenty of opportunities, aren’t there? Side Angle Pose is a perfect example.  

Also think about how this action is an everyday occurrence off of your yoga mat. It doesn’t even have to be in another movement practice, or maybe reaching up to grab something out of a cupboard. It could simply be a natural bodily instinct when you feel like you need a little stretch after sitting at your work desk for most of the day. An action like this can be so easily taken for granted. Lifting your arms up over your head without pain is a privilege for so many, and it can be quite frustrating when you want to engage in such a “simple” movement/action but have difficulty doing so. The same thing rings true when you consider a foundational posture like Side Angle Pose. This pose seems  “innocent” enough but may not be so simple when there is pain that keeps you from lifting your top arm overhead.

Unfortunately, pain from this action is commonly rooted in the myth that it is better to draw your shoulders away from your ears even when your arms are overhead. This is often communicated in yoga classes, but let’s bust this myth with some anatomy of the shoulder.

SHOULDER MOBILITY

Access Your Active Range of Motions

  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Decrease risk of injury
  • Release shoulder tension
  • Learn anatomy and biomechanics
  • Access a wider range of postures
  • Stabilize the rotator cuff muscles
  • Learn binds, heart openers, and arm balances
  • 12 all-levels, 75-minute online classes
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

SHOULDER ANATOMY

The acromion process is almost like a little bone that sticks out and is essentially the front part of the scapula. If you were to palpate and travel along the “spine of the scapula” (on the upper border of the scapula) and follow that along towards the top of the shoulder, you would feel a small flat surface underneath your fingers.

Underneath the scapula is the supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle), which exists underneath this acromioclavicular joint (AC joint). Within this space, you’ll also find soft tissue called the bursa. Bursae are like little liquid-filled sacs that help minimize friction between the moving parts of the joints throughout your body. Underneath the “shelf” of the AC joint, you’ll find the subacromial bursa and the subdeltoid bursa.  

The action of pulling your shoulders down while trying to lift your arms up may cause compression, pinching the soft tissues. This can lead to issues like bursitis (inflammation of the bursa), tendonitis, or, in some more extreme scenarios, the tearing of the supraspinatus. When these types of issues arise, they create what’s often referred to as shoulder impingement: “Patients with shoulder impingement syndrome suffer from painful entrapment of soft tissue whenever they elevate the arm.” In order to avoid this entrapment, Matt explains that it’s imperative that we learn how to upwardly rotate the shoulder blades.  

Garving C, Jakob S, Bauer I, Nadjar R, Brunner UH. Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Nov 10;114(45):765-776. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0765. PMID: 29202926; PMCID: PMC5729225.

WATCH THE VIDEO: SIDE ANGLE POSE: SHOULDER FIX AT THE WALL

SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT

Once you understand the mechanics, it’s easier to understand why shoulder impingement may start to present itself in Side Angle Pose and other yoga postures where your arms go past shoulder height.  

In the following study, we learn that shoulder impingement is both common and can be more complex:

“Shoulder pain is the third most common musculoskeletal complaint in orthopedic practice, and impingement syndrome is one of the more common underlying diagnoses. On the pathophysiological level, it can have various functional, degenerative, and mechanical causes. The impingement hypothesis assumes a pathophysiological mechanism in which different structures of the shoulder joint come into mechanical conflict. The goal of treatment is to restore pain-free and powerful movement of the shoulder joint.”

Garving C, Jakob S, Bauer I, Nadjar R, Brunner UH. Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Nov 10;114(45):765-776. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0765. PMID: 29202926; PMCID: PMC5729225.

Asana practice does not replace treatment where necessary, but you can be proactive in trying to avoid shoulder impingement by moving with more intention and understanding. An asana practice may also serve as support to medical treatment.

So how can you move with more intention and understanding in Side Angle Pose?

200 Hour Online Teacher Training Certification

200 HOUR ONLINE TEACHER TRAINING

GET CERTIFIED & DEEPEN YOUR YOGA PRACTICE

  • Deepen your yoga practice
  • Build confidence speaking in front of groups in person and online
  • Learn foundational class structures and templates
  • Learn techniques for a wide range of yoga postures
  • Get certified and highly qualified to teach yoga
  • Yoga Alliance Globally Recognized Certification Program

MOVE WITH INTENTION

Part of the intention in Side Angle Pose and other postures that require the action of lifting your arms overhead is to protect the subacromial space underneath the acromion process. You can reduce collision and obstruction by accentuating the movement of the angle of the joint. This happens by lifting the collar bone up and tilting the scapulae upward. As your arm goes up, the angle of the glenohumeral joint changes because the bottom tip of the scapula rotates up and forward. This change in the articulation of the joint helps reduce or possibly remove any pinching in the area, thus preventing pain.

When your arms go up, there are a number of muscle co-activations that are taking place to facilitate the bones’ movement (i.e., collar bone and scapulae). As the supraspinatus engages, it (hopefully) lifts the clavicle. The serratus anterior helps to pull the shoulder blade forward, and the co-activation of the lower and upper fibers of the trapezius will help with the rotation of the scapulae. In order to maintain the subacromial space, your shoulders need to lift up towards your ears. Setting yourself up at a wall for Side Angle Pose assists in the deeper understanding of the anatomy and biomechanics of the posture.

300 hour teacher training online

300 HOUR ONLINE TEACHER TRAINING

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Master your skill set as a teacher through refined techniques, anatomy, biomechanics, sequencing, philosophy, meditation techniques, theming, yoga business, and much more!

  • Get 500 hour certified
  • Learn anatomy, biomechanics, asana techniques
  • Expand your teaching skills
  • Masterful sequencing and verbal delivery
  • Learn meditation and breathwork techniques
  • Transformative tools: theming, dharma talks, satsang
  • Business, branding, marketing, and social media skills

SIDE ANGLE SHOULDER FIX AT THE WALL

(right foot forward)

In the video, you’ll see how Matt uses the wall to deepen the sensation of engagement/activation of muscles. A wall in Side Angle Pose is a great prop that reminds you to reach not only through your hand but also through the shoulder blade.

Here are the steps:

  1. Set up your mat perpendicular to a wall
  2. With your right toes facing the wall, place your right forearm on your thigh, with groins back
  3. Hand is by your side like in Tadasana 
  4. Externally rotate the upper arm bone (will retract scapula)
  5. Reach down and away (point the finger to emphasize the reach)
  6. As the arm comes up, make sure that outer line of the scapula is reaching; get your shoulder to touch your ear. In this way, you’ll find that you have a greater range of motion
  7. Touch the wall with your fingertips and push into the wall with the hand 
  8. Turn chest underneath. If your armpit goes forward here, suck the armpit back as you push

This is where a progression may be possible: The right forearm might leave the thigh, and you can place your hand next to the pinky side of your foot. If this is the case, your head may lower, creating more space between your shoulder and your ear. It is important to continue reaching through your hand and pulling your armpit back. 

It’s these seemingly tiny actions that create a huge impact on the experience in your body. Building in this kinesthetic awareness can help you to reduce the occurrence of injury and help you increase your range of motion in the shoulders. Shoulder Mobility starts Saturday November 5th.

See you on the mat!

The 200 Hr. Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

The 300 Hr. Advanced Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Anatomy In Motion

UPCOMING TEACHER TRAININGS

NEXT TRAINING BEGINS FEBRUARY 26, 2023 ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN
NEXT TRAINING  BEGINS FEBRUARY 18, 2023. ENROLLMENT NOW OPEN

Continue Learning

Spinal Freedom In Revolved Low Lunge

Spinal Freedom In Revolved Low Lunge

Spinal Freedom in Revolved Low Lunge 5-Part Twist TechniqueanjaneyasanaREVOLVED LOW LUNGE TECHNIQUE You’re going to multiply the benefits of twisting postures with this 5-part twist technique. There are already benefits you may knowingly and/or unknowingly receive...

read more
King Pigeon Variations

King Pigeon Variations

King Pigeon Variations Full Body Awareness for Your ShouldersmobilityKING PIGEON If you’ve practiced with Matt before, you’ll be aware of the domino effect or the ripple effect of how a yoga posture unfolds. Matt brilliantly breaks down every pose with care and...

read more
Reverse Plank Pose

Reverse Plank Pose

Reverse Plank Pose Scapular Retraction For Back StrengthPURVOTTANASANAREVERSE PLANK POSE Asymmetry is a common issue when it comes to our asana practice. Opportunities to work on strengthening muscles in the back body are much more infrequent than opportunities to...

read more
Crow Pose On Blocks

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Crow Pose on Blocks Take Your Shoulder Stability to New HeightsSTABILITYCROW 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...

read more
Side Angle Pose

Side Angle Pose

Side Angle Pose Shoulder Fix at the Wallupward rotationSIDE ANGLE POSE Stop for a moment and think about how many times you lift your arms overhead in any given asana practice. There are plenty of opportunities, aren't there? Side Angle Pose is a perfect example.  ...

read more
Open Splits

Open Splits

Open Splits Follow This Flexibility FormulaSAMAKONASANAOPEN SPLITS Open splits is one of those postures that may not always make it into your asana practice, but there are a number of good reasons for it to start showing up more often. It does require a considerable...

read more

THE FREE TECHNIQUE PACK

When You Subscribe You Will Get Instant Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts
  • Exclusive Blogs and Videos
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Down Dog: Avoid Shoulder Impingement

3 Steps to Avoid Shoulder Impingement

in Downward-Facing Dog

Should You “Relax Your Shoulders” Away From Your Ears?

In my previous blog, “The Yoga Cue That Could Be Destroying Your Shoulders,” I explained how taking the arms up overhead while dropping our shoulders down our back could be a recipe for shoulder impingement. Many teachers use Downward Dog as a “resting pose.”  In my experience, I have found that “relaxing” in Downward Dog is quite often the reason for most shoulder issues but can easily be rectified with the 3 cues I provide in the video and photo breakdown below: 

  1. Externally Rotate the Humerus
  2. Pronate the Forearms (not directly related to the shoulder but balances out Step 1)
  3. Elevate the Scapula 

Elevation of the scapula happens when you lift your shoulder blades upward, which is like “shrugging” your shoulders, or when you excitedly reach your arms up to the sky. We naturally let our shoulders lift when our arms go up, but since many instructors cue the opposite, it is easy develop a pattern that does not serve the health of our shoulders. In addition to the verbal cue of “soften your shoulders,” gravity also causes issues if we don’t actively resist when we are in postures like Downward Dog, Forearm Stand, Handstand, or in a jump forward. My suggestion is to strengthen the muscles that elevate the scapula (upper trapezius and serratus anterior being the primary ones) in order to develop the pattern that can help to avoid shoulder impingement.

Many people cringe when I suggest strengthening the muscles that lift the shoulders up, saying something like “but my shoulders are stuck up by my ears, shouldn’t I relax them down?” The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is that muscles hold tension when they are weak. Your shoulders are likely up by your ears because of stress, rather than excess strength . . . unless you are a world champion bodybuilder . . . then ignore this. We also have muscle-holding patterns, which means that when we hold our neck, head, and arms in one position for most of the day, it will cause the muscles to become accustomed to holding those positions, and as a result you will be somewhat stuck in that shape. Simply pulling your shoulders back down will not relax the trapezius; rather, it could cause more stress, and the muscle could become more aggravated.

SHOULDER REVELATION

Strength•Mobility•Biomechanics

  • Increase strength and flexibility
  • Decrease risk of injury
  • Release shoulder tension
  • Learn anatomy and biomechanics
  • Access a wider range of postures
  • Stabilize the rotator cuff muscles
  • Learn binds, heart openers, and arm balances
  • 12 all-levels, 75-minute online classes
  • Lifetime unlimited access to all

$198.00 $138.00

BUT ISN’T IT IMPORTANT TO RELAX MY NECK?

Relaxing is undoubtedly important, and it will help release tension in your mind and body. At the same time, muscles relax from being activated properly and then released. You have certainly experienced this after engaging your muscles in a good workout or yoga class and then the incredible relaxation afterwards. Stretching a muscle can help release tension at times, but more often than not, I find active engagement or passive shortening of a muscle is far more effective. When a muscle is healthy and strong, it is better able to relax.

Follow the 3 easy steps in the video below to avoid shoulder impingement, and you will grow stronger in your trapezius muscles and rotator cuff.

Maintaining Joint Space

Research indicates that externally rotating the humerus helps to move the supraspinatus tendon away from the impingement area under the acromion process. Essentially this means that by rotating your arm bones outward (biceps turn forward) you are less likely to pinch the the soft tissues that run between your arm bone and the shoulder socket. 

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Other Helpful Muscle Engagements

Research also shows that activating both the biceps and triceps at the same time  can actually support creating more space in the glenohumeral joint  (where the arm meets the shoulder socket). You can do this by actively pushing the arms straight, and then try to squeeze your hands toward each other like a bull dog.   It is challenging to do oppositional muscle engagements so this takes a bit of exploring. First work on straightening the elbows and activating the triceps. When you squeeze your arms toward each other you will also get the added benefit of activating the adductor muscles which can also support more space in the shoulder joint.

DOES THIS APPLY TO HANDSTAND AS WELL?

Your shoulder joints do not know the difference between downward dog and handstand – aside from the gravitational pull, the shoulders are in the same alignment in downward dog as they are in handstand, this is called flexion. When the arms are flexed over head, you are at risk of impingement. The only difference is that in handstand you have to compete with gravity and so you will need to increase your efforts. You will find much more on this subject in the online course titled Handstand Part 2: Balance.

Step 1 - Externally Rotate the Arm Upper Arm Bone

Rotating the humerus externally when the arm goes up over head can help to avoid the impingement interval in the joint. One of your rotator cuff muscles, the supraspinatus, runs through the glenohumeral joint (under the acromion process and above the head of the humerus). This muscle helps to lift the arms up from tadasana, but because of its location it is easily pinched if the arms go over head but the shoulder blades don’t follow the movement. Downward dog is often the culprit- the weight of the body on the shoulders requires that we put effort into the posture to push the ground away, however with cues like “relax your shoulders” and “soften” we often release the appropriate muscular action required to maintain space resulting in shoulder impingement. In plain English – Externally rotate your arms (triceps rotate toward your face) and you will maintain more space in the joint and less potential for impingement. 

Step 3: Upward Rotation of The Scapula

From the outer line of your shoulder blades press through your hands into the earth. When you elevate your shoulder blades toward the ears from the outside line of the arm, the bottom wingtip of the scapula begins to rotate out and up – this is known as upward rotation of the scapula. As a result of upward rotation your shoulder blades rotates and angles itself to allow the arm bone to be overhead without a collision of bones in the joint, creating less possibility of impingement. 

Step 2: Pronate the Forearm

When externally rotating the upper arm bone you will notice that the lower arm (forearm) will go along for the ride and rotate as well. This results in an increased pressure in the outside of the hand and wrist. To evenly distribute the weight to the whole hand, simply pronate your forearm, by rotating the inner forearm and hand down toward the ground. Many teachers will stress this by asking you to press your index finger and thumb down. Depending on your range of motion in your radial ulnar joint,  you may not be able to press the inside edge of your hand down and maintain external rotation of the shoulder. My suggestion is to turn the hands slightly outward if this is the case. Learning to rotate the forearm in opposition of the upper arm bone can be challenging, but through mindful repetition you will be able to do it, and you will feel an increased strength and stability from it. To Strengthen your wrist, I highly recommend Handstand Training

The 3 Actions

While I have broken this down into 3 steps, with time and practice it can be 1 step and the 3 actions can happen all at once. To build muscle coordination it is useful to separate the actions and practice them individually. Though I created a definitive order to follow, know that it is beneficial to mix up the 3 steps and put them out of order. You may find another combination to work better for your body! The dotted red line above is to indicate the path of the bottom wing tip of the scapula. If you do not do push the bottom wing tip will wind up closer to the spine, it is helpful to video yourself to see where your shoulder blades are on your back. 

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Depression of the Scapula

Pulling your shoulders down away from the ears is the opposite of everything I have mentioned in this post, however it is an important action to work on especially for arm balances like side plank because depression creates stability when the arms are at or below shoulder height.

When Can I Relax My Shoulders?

One of the best parts about getting stronger with shoulder elevation (upward rotation) is that the muscles of your upper trapezius will become more supple and be able to relax more easily. Just like after working really hard in a yoga class you feel that complete relaxation in your body, each of your muscles experience that after being strengthened. There are plenty of opportunities to relax your shoulders down your back – just not when you reach your arms overhead. So when you are sitting at your chair you can think shoulders move slightly back and shoulder blades relax downward. When you are in a strong posture like crow pose and your upper arms are not over head, you can even work on strengthening the muscles of depression of the scapula. My philosophy on the body is that there are no wrong actions or muscle engagements, there are just appropriate and inappropriate times to use them.

A great rule of thumb you can take with you: when in doubt just let your shoulders follow your hands – if the hands go up, let your shoulders go up, if they go down let them go down, if you reach forward let them go forward, etc. Enjoy your exploration, thank you for stopping by!

-Matt

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