A reader recently contacted me and asked how to make sure that her shoulder alignment is safe when in certain yoga poses.
Shoulder Alignment and Yoga Pose Question
Here is her question:
I’ve been following your work and wanted to ask a shoulder alignment question that I’m confused about. Specifically, it is about the shoulder action, placement and language when in certain yoga poses like downward dog or crescent lunge.
Often, when I do certain yoga poses, the shoulders get crunched up towards the jaw, tightening everything around the neck.
I thought the the general instruction was to ‘slide the shoulders down your back, and firmly on the back of the rib cage’, but recently I read conflicting thoughts.
There is no need to cue our students to “Pull your shoulders down your back” when their arms are overhead.
When our arms lift up, our shoulder blades naturally rotate and lift along with the arm movement. This is a normal, optimal movement that is often referred to as “scapulohumeral rhythm” and it is not helpful to interfere with this natural coordinated action by trying to consciously pull the shoulder blades down the back to prevent them from lifting.
Could you share with me your thoughts on shoulder alignment as they relate to yoga poses? Thank you.
Yoga Pose and Shoulder Alignment
Hello, I’m Margaret from MelioGuide, and today I’m asking a question from Nichole whose question was very good and worthy of a blog.
Her question was, shoulder alignment and specifically, scapular position, when doing yoga poses.
1. Confusion About Yoga and Shoulder Alignment
She got confused with reading something within the Yoga International articles.
This was quoted from Yoga International, which is correct, that states: “There is no need to cue our students to pull your shoulder blades down and back when the arms are overhead.”
2. Natural Shoulder Lift
You’ve seen that guidance in Marjorie’s blog on shoulder anatomy.
When our arms lift up, our shoulder blades lift up and naturally rotate and lift along with the arm and that’s a great and beautiful thing that happens.
This is a normal optimum movement that is often referred to as scapulohumeral rhythm — the movement of the scapula and the humerus.
It’s not helpful to interfere with this natural, coordinated action, by trying to consciously pull the shoulder blades down and back to prevent them from lifting.
I totally agree with all of that but I can understand Nichole’s confusion when doing a pose that requires our arms to be up overhead such as the downward dog.
3. Downward Dog and Shoulder Alignment
So as you see in the downward dog, you want the arms to press firmly into the mat so that the scapula are supporting the back. You don’t, at that point, want the shoulders to be coming up by the ears.
The difference is that it’s a closed kinetic chain. This means that your hands are in contact with the floor and your arms are now supporting the weight of your upper body.
This is very different than when you are simply raising the arms up overhead and where there’s no weight taken by the upper body. At that point, the scapula get to freely move up and around, and your shoulders come up towards your ears.
In weight bearing loads, you’re pressing the floor away from you and setting the shoulder blades in a more stable and strong position to support you.
4. Keep Your Shoulders Safe
Nichole and all other yoga practitioners out there, I hope this helps you in safely practicing your yoga and keeping your shoulders safe.
Thank you for tuning in. I’m Margaret from MelioGuide.
Visit my page dedicated to Joint Health.