hanging out with the shoulder, part i

The four-week shoulder series at the studio is so much fun (and I feel just terrible for those of you who can’t be there), I thought I’d post highlights throughout the next three weeks on what we’re covering.

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Last week, in preparation for the series, I called an anatomy-geek friend to ask her what thing she would most definitely cover if she was teaching this series.

Without hesitation, her impassioned response was:

I would tell people to stop pinching their shoulder blades together and sticking their front ribs out!

Ah yes, the overcompensation for the equally misaligned opposite, The Slouch.

Friends, we are going to talk about shoulder blade stabilization.

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Why is this important?

Any misalignment in the shoulder girdle (your two collarbones and two scapulae) affects and is affected by the posture of the pelvis, spine and head. The entire system called shoulder is a tricky riddle. Like in Jenga, you can’t move one thing without changing the whole system.

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Where are the shoulder blades supposed to be?

Flat on the back.

Not sloping out to the sides.
Not squeezing together.
Not winging at the inside edges.

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Why does this matter in yoga asana?

Take, for example, the position of my shoulder blades in Warrior II (the Squeeze and the Spread):

Now, it might not cause any great damage for you to do Warrior II with squeezed or misaligned shoulder blades, but consider that these are the same arms you’ll want for Vasisthasana, Side Plank (a super scapular stabilization strengthener (SSSS)). And you don’t want to bear weight on a misaligned joint. At best, you’d be reinforcing a less than ideal pattern; at worst, you’d compromise the joint and be more susceptible to injury.

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Here are two SSSSs to consider adding to your practice.

All 4s/plank on knees or feet
Yes, likely you do this often in your yoga practice, but are you getting the full benefit from the pose? Are you pressing the hands down through the floor, rebounding back up to fill out the space between the shoulder blades? If the answer is No (i.e. your back sinks between the shoulder blades), then you are not using your serratus muscle, a very important scapular stabilizer.

Scapular push ups
From the same position (all 4s or plank for more challenge), bring the thumb tips and index fingertips together making a diamond shape (hands turned in slightly) underneath your face (rather than under your shoulders). Keep the elbows straight and let the chest sink all the way down between the arms until the shoulder blades touch. Then ground into the hands and lift the chest back up between the blades. You might even exaggerate the lift so that you feel slightly rounded at the upper back. Repeat 10+ times.

In both poses, keep the head “on” — not looking forward, not letting the head hang. Grow your neck from the core of your body forward and out the crown. Maintain a low belly tone, as though you are lifting the spot halfway between your navel and your pubic bone away from the floor.

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Whew! I’m feeling that. Are you? It seems easy enough, but can be deceptively potent.

I think that’s the thing with the shoulders. They can be deceptive.

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By the by, you can purchase the audio version of all four classes (be the detective of this deceptive area!).

If you purchased (and liked) the hips series, you’ll definitely like the shoulders. Very practical, great for teachers, and between the two you would have quite a toolkit for a balanced, informed body.

Wow, come to think of it, we also offer a video class on the shoulders through It’s All Yoga.

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Enjoy!

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3 Responses to “hanging out with the shoulder, part i”


  1. 1 Thais August 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    this is a great post!! i am learning ab shoulder anatomy in YTT and hands down thats one of the places people hurt themselves the most. all because they think they’re doing it “right”.

    on a side note – love you tat!

  2. 2 madyoga August 19, 2011 at 5:23 am

    So great, so well thought out.

    Also, you have the best shoulder blades for demonstrating the difference between those two positions.

  3. 3 Billy June 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    That is a great tip particularly to those new
    to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise info… Appreciate
    your sharing this one. A must read article!


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