Shoulder Curriculum

SHOULDER FLEXION

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It’s easy to mistake the posture for the practice. Asana is the setting of the yoga practice, not the final goal of the discipline. Asana is a beautiful, powerful and poignant vehicle for self-study, the cultivation of focus, and the development of equanimity.
-Jason Crandell


Listen, I like this picture. It's a freaking awesome dedication to the place I love most (Point Reyes) and was taken by the wonderful @muel_man 
But I gotta be honest, there's not a drop of yoga happening in this moment. 
Fun, yes. 
Pretty, sure. 
Am I hoping it will entice someone on the internet to come to my classes? You better believe it! 
I gotta also say this might have been like the 12th time I posed with this landmark and my arms were getting tired!
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All that's to say, we're doing a lot of specific work with the shoulders over the next month. Specifically when the shoulders are in flexion (overhead) and bearing a significant amount of our body weight (Down dog, Handstand, Forearm Balance, Wheel, etc.)
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The work is simple meaning everyone can do it and sort of maddening because it's super simple but also hard. My favorite combination, honestly.
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My hope for students is two fold:
1) To fall in love with skillful preparation or at least see it's benefits. 
2) To reevaluate alignment in poses they do everyday. Maybe you'll keep things the same, maybe you'll change it up. But seeing that three legged dog can be a great prep pose for handstand may have you doing that pose a little differently.
3) To make your shoulders feel good. Like really good. Like really really good.
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My goal is not to get you to do handstand. 
Maybe you do, maybe you don't. 
There's nothing inherently sacred or yogic about handstand. It's the investigation, paying attention to all the subtle details, being intimately connected with the pads of your fingers connecting to the floor. 
Presence paired with passion. 
The pose is just the pose. 
It's you that brings the yoga.

RE-CONSIDER YOUR BASE

Sometimes it’s important to have the freedom to pick the prop that works best for our structure.
Here I share a few DownDog cues that will help you pick a prop for some of the shoulder flexion and spine drills to follow in the next few posts.

Stepping back into DownDog as you normally do. Feel your hands into the mat and imagine you could traction the mat forward, feeling a strong reach through your arms.
Keep that.
Then sense (without rotating the arm bones) that you could traction the mat apart with your arms, as if you were trying to create a small tear in between your thumbs.
Then do the opposite. 
Again trying your best to not change arm bone rotation, Sense your arms traction narrow imaging you could create a small wrinkle in between your thumbs.
This work is subtle but powerful allowing use to capture strength to stabilize our structure in space.

If it’s a new experience for you, cycle a few times through those two options and see how they feel in you arms, shoulders, chest, and upper back.

It’s possible that both will feel fine.
It’s also possible that one will feel way better than the other.

If there was a big difference of one feeling better, I’d like for you to pick your prop accordingly based on that feedback.
For arms overhead work if it felt better to traction wide, try using a strap.
If it felt better to traction narrow, try using a block.
If there was no discernible difference I’d suggest using the block but you’re welcome to try both as it will often connect you to a different region to produce strength and stability.

PROGRESSION

Internet Yoga gets progression pretty wrong.
I mean, we’ve all seen those if you want to do this, try this pictures where the first pose is something that looks impossible unless you have extreme flexibility and went to gymnastics everyday from the age of 3-16.

This unromantic work won’t get you a million followers or the cover of Yoga Journal.
But it will help you build stable ass shoulders and that sexy as hell, y’all.

Laying on your back is a good guide post for true shoulder flexion and feeling the relationship of your arms reaching to your spine. 
We get to use the floor as feedback to let us know when we’re at our max flexion for that moment and then build from there.
It can be tempting to compensate through the spine to get your arms to the floor, but in that case your shoulders aren’t doing the work you intend them to do and you’re not quite getting the training you’d like to do a pose like, say handstand, really really skillfully.

Sometimes people who have the capacity to do really cool body things will think they don’t need this kind of work.
That too would be a mistake.
We all benefit from less work for more physical feedback.
By doing as one of my teachers Chuck Miller often says, “do the simple thing in a more advanced way.”
If you think this looks sooooooo easy.
Try doing 10 slow controlled true reps and then get back to me.

SCAPULA STRENGTH AND MOBILITY

Scapula Push-Ups are the bees knees.
I do them all the time in these three progressions.
If you’ve never done them I recommend you start with the seated version first. 
These help you to develop more understanding and control of where your shoulder blades are in space.
They help to build strength and stability around your shoulder complex.
And they also have the fringe benefit of breaking up chronic tension in the upper back area to get those rhomboids unstuck and moving like butter.
NOTE: In slide two I misspoke but didn’t feel like refiliming! Because talking to your phone is so weird!
Protraction of the shoulder blades is the movement associated with broadening (ie moving in the anterior direction)
Retraction is the action of drawing together (ie moving in the posterior direction)
Thanks for valuing my humanness 🤗

SHOULDER PUSH-UPS

SEGMENTED PUSH-UPS

This might be the face you make after trying these push-ups 🤗
Segmented push-ups to build a more powerful push.
Full disclosure Push-ups are not easy for me! And they are not easy for a lot of people. Only lower so far as you can maintain control and length through your center.
Try not to lead the movement with your face or your shoulder head.
Quality over quantity for these.
Do your best.

Scapulohumeral Rhythm

Boy do I have great news for you!
It is entirely possible to extend your spine (backbend) without drawing your shoulder blades down your back.
Why is this great news? Because when you’re in a back bending pose where you’re bearing your body weight with the arms overhead you get to push through your arms and take your shoulder blades with you for the ride. 
For whatever reason, I feel like a lot of yoga folks have gotten on board with reaching through the scapula when in an inversion but still cue shoulder blades down, back, and in a backbend. 🤷‍♀️
This can feel great for say Cobra Pose but Cobra Pose is not Wheel pose. The same rules for coupling the arm bone and the scapula apply always and especially when you’re in a pose with your shoulders in flexion (overhead) bearing a significant amount of load (your body weight).
Let’s let our joints move in the most efficient and supportive way possible.
This is actually called Scapulohumeral Rhythm if you want to feel fancy.
If you’re a person reaching for something or lifting something over your head it’s just called how your body works.

MORE DRILLS