Shoulder Connections

Shoulder Connections

3 Postures for Increased Mobility

shoulder stability

SHOULDER CONNECTIONS

To increase mobility in our shoulders, we must first understand how they move, so we become more connected with their function and how they inform a variety of yoga postures. The exploration with intentional techniques is the key to gaining access to these postures. 

In regard to heart-opening postures, “shoulder connections” are also about understanding how the retraction of the shoulder blades affects the chest, rib cage, abdomen, and spine. In today’s video, Matt demonstrates the shoulder actions needed to access 3-Part Cobra, Upward Dog with blocks, and Wild Thing. The way that the retraction of the shoulder blades is applied in these postures will not only create the desired heart-opening shape but also strengthen the muscles necessary for healthy shoulder mobility.

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    3-PART COBRA

    The sequence of actions in this posture teaches us the ability to authentically stretch the front body and strengthen the back body. There’s a greater requirement for us to recruit the muscles in the upper body due to the decreased reliance on the hands to hold us up (if we allow it). In the video, Matt starts the sequence of lifting the upper body off the floor by first using the leverage of the hands; in order to reduce compression in the lower back, he sends the rib cage forward, then pulls the belly in and up. Here’s the key though: It’s the activation of the rear deltoids, the retraction of the shoulder blades, and the action of pulling the chest through the shoulders that creates the “bowing of the spine” required in all backbends. 

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    SHOULDER CONNECTIONS: 3 POSTURES FOR INCREASED MOBILITY

    UPWARD-FACING DOG: PREPARATION WITH BLOCKS

    If we pay attention to the smaller, more intricate details within the application of techniques in a posture, the benefits become more profound. First, Matt demonstrates the simple action of turning the fingers outward on the blocks. Lifting the shoulders up and back now becomes more accessible, which encourages the action of external rotation in the arms, promoting retraction of the scapulae and allowing for more opportunity to contract and strengthen the rear deltoids, rhomboids, lower fibers of the trapezius muscles, and the latissimi dorsi. The final action is to push the hands down into the blocks to access increased spinal extension along with greater heart opening.  

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    WILD THING

    In Wild Thing, there are 3 shoulder actions that help create more expansion and mobility in the shoulders. First, we lift the bottom shoulder up, move it back (retract), and then bring the bottom wing tip of the shoulder blade around. These actions send the chest forward and up. The posture is different, but the same actions apply here as in 3-Part Cobra. In the full class, Matt reminds us that it can be easy to lose the integrity of the positioning of the shoulder once we start to lift up into the pose, but if we continue to connect with the sensation of muscle contraction between the shoulder blades, there’s more success in maintaining the shoulder position. Ideally, the chest is above the height of the shoulder. In order to gain shoulder mobility, we must build strength and endurance in the muscles associated with and connected to the shoulders. Stretching alone will not have the same effect.

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    SHOULDER MOBILITY

    Shoulder mobility means having the ability to move the joint through the full range of motion. We can see why this is beneficial when it comes to heart openers: In order to find expansion, we need to be able to move the shoulder joint freely and safely. Strengthening also means better stability. In postures like Wild Thing, where we’re balancing on one arm, stability and strength are a must for a solid foundation.  

    Exploring the shoulder actions multiple times within a practice helps us record the biomechanics in our bodies. This is the reasoning behind the layering of actions and postures in a Chromatic Yoga class.

    In the 2nd week of Matt’s current 3-part workshop, Shoulder Mastery, he delves into shoulder strength for arm balances. Register and get access to this class and to last week’s class about the shoulders and heart openers.

    See you on the mat!

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    Article by Trish Curling

    Videos Extracted From: Shoulder Mastery

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    Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog

    Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog

    Shoulder Mechanics Simplified

    ALIGNMENT

    PLANK, CHATURANGA, UPWARD DOG

    How many times have you heard the cue “Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog” in a yoga class? If you’re a regular practitioner, it’s probably quite often (particularly in Vinyasa-style classes). These postures are often strung together in a sequence, and the repetition of this sequence can feel quite nice in your body once it becomes a more regular part of your asana practice. It’s easy, however, to become complacent in the execution of these postures and potentially miss opportunities to practice with more skill. In today’s video, Matt simplifies the shoulder mechanics within each posture and highlights how to effectively utilize the appropriate muscle groups for maximum efficiency in your body. You’ll come away with alignment insights that will uplevel your yoga practice.

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    UNDERSTANDING PLANK

    Plank is the foundation and start of the sequence of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog. It is the start of being able to understand some of the common tendencies you may have when it comes to stability. Matt explains that one tendency is the anterior tilt of the scapulae (i.e., the shoulders roll forward). This is not necessarily wrong, but if your body regularly defaults into the pattern, it may be an indication that your serratus anterior is weak. It’s your serratus anterior that works to protract the scapulae (a requirement for Plank Pose). If this area is weak, then your pectoralis minor will attempt to take over. A big indicator here is a “sagging” between the shoulder blades. In Plank, your torso is being weighed down by gravity, so the pull of the chest, or “sagging,” is almost inevitable if the serratus anterior is weak.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    PLANK, CHATURANGA, UPWARD DOG: SHOULDER MECHANICS SIMPLIFIED

    CHATURANGA AND THE ROLE OF GRAVITY

    In the full class, Matt discusses the importance of understanding the role of gravity and its influence on Plank and Chaturanga. In Plank, we now understand the tendency to close the distance between the shoulder blades. In Chaturanga, however, there is an element of going with gravity through the movement, while also opposing it. In other words, in Chaturanga, the shoulder mechanics change. You’re moving from protraction in Plank to retraction.  This is where it gets tricky. Even though there is a level of retraction, it’s critical to note that the muscles that allow you to lower into Chaturanga slowly are the muscles that create protraction. There is still a level of effort placed on protraction so as not to just go with gravity and fall on your face. Essentially, you are fighting against gravity in order to maintain a slow stable descent into Chaturanga.

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    UPWARD-FACING DOG

    Falling into the same pattern of anterior tilt in the shoulders is very easy here too. Upward Dog has the capacity to be a strong backbend, but this is achieved by creating a posterior tilt of the scapulae. Instead of thinking about how to manipulate this action from the top of the shoulder blades, Matt suggests bringing your awareness to the bottom tips. Bringing the bottom tips of the scapulae in towards your midline while sending them forward will help to create the shape. Lifting your shoulders up while also sending them back will ultimately send your chest forward to create the backbend. If this proves to be challenging, it comes back to strengthening both the serratus anterior and, in this case, the lower trapezius, which can help you break away from old patterns. It’s the difference between dropping into gravity and lifting up and out with more power.

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    TRANSITION

    Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog—instead of just going through the motions, you now need a deeper sense of awareness in this sequence. Of course, your body will start to re-pattern, and there will be less thought once the pattern becomes ingrained in your body. The sequence of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog will become more fluid, but until then, it will be a process of becoming more familiar with the timing of when to protract, retract, elevate, and depress your shoulders. In today’s video from Matt’s Alignment Immersion, he takes you on the journey of these 3 postures. If you’re interested in going even further, investing in his 200 & 300 hour training programs is the way forward. This is where you will go further into not only transforming your own practice but becoming certified to support and transform the practice of your students.

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    Video Extracted From: Alignment Immersion

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