We all have them. We’re human. Our ego mind tends to label these habits as “good” or “bad”. Yoga asks us to practice setting aside our ego instincts and look at these habits without judgment. Yoga asks us to be open to all possibilities, to be flexible in mind and body.
This is a good week to keep an open mind: we’re looking at the shoulders in ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) –shoulders that, for many of us, carry a host of our habitual patterns.
At this point, you’re likely aware of the rounded-shoulder, forward-head postural habit that so many of us have garnered from our handheld devices and seated work days.
Lucky for us, yoga asana practice often counters that daily habit. Instead of rounding the shoulders forward, many yoga poses ask us to open the chest, creating space in the shoulder girdle. Ardha chandrasana is a prime example.
Now, ardha chandrasana is not an easy pose (are there any truly “easy” poses?). In the case of ardha chandrasana, we must keep several alignment points in mind all while teetering in a balance.
The shoulders is one of the toughest places to stay conscious of alignment in this dance with gravity. It’s almost as if they have a mind of their own that comes from our habitual pattern of letting the shoulders roll forward. This valve is tough to undo –but not impossible!
The valve we see most often is shoulder internal rotation (otherwise known as the shoulders rolling forward). This also leads to limited range of motion in shoulder ABduction (lifting arms away from the sides of the torso).
What we usually want to see instead is a clear opening of the arms and chest with the shoulders in ABduction and external rotation –like a giant hug!
Avoiding shoulder internal rotation here is largely a matter of developing awareness: proprioception. It’s important to do so to prevent impingement in the shoulder joint (which is about as fun as it sounds), plus it may just give you another means through which to create stability in your balance!
There are still muscles involved, of course, so here is your breakdown of what might be tight or weak and contributing to the valve:
What’s Tight and Needs Lengthening
Shoulder internal rotators
- on the front of the chest: pectoralis major, anterior deltoid
- on the back of the body: latissimus dorsi, teres major, and subscapularis
What’s Weak and Needs Strengthening
Shoulder external rotators
- on the backside of your shoulders: posterior deltoid, infraspinatus, teres minor
Ideas for Developing Proprioception
- Use a simpler position to help your students feel shoulder abduction with external rotation!
- Lie supine on the floor. Bring the arms into a “T” shape, turning them in the shoulder joint so that the palms are facing up toward the ceiling (or sky if you’re lucky enough to be practicing outside!). True, this one is simple enough that your students may wonder what they’re paying attention to, but that’s why it works! They can put all their attention into the positioning of the arms and shoulders.
- Take the lifted arm out of the equation in the actual balance: put your top hand on your hip!
- You don’t need to worry about the full reach of an extended arm to work on opening the chest and shoulders: keep an eye on the elbow here and work on opening it up towards the ceiling.
- This can also be practiced in simpler poses such as trikonasana (triangle pose) and parsvakonasana (side angle pose).
What other ideas have you used to help your students open up their shoulder posture in ardha chandrasana? Share your ideas on social with the tag #216infrastructure!
Next week, we’re taking a break to enjoy the 4th of July holiday weekend with friends and family (and we hope you’ll be doing the same!). We’ll be back in July with a brand new pose: janu sirsasana (head to knee pose).
Balance on, yogis!
Each month we dig into a different asana by looking at common valves in major joints (spine, etc) and asking why do these valves or energy leaks occur? To answer that, we go under the hood and explore the asana’s kinesiology—what the muscles and bones are doing! This information lets us build valve “fixes,” practical teaching ideas you can try in your classes and privates. Each week builds on the next, giving you a month-long outline for how to help your students uncover their variation of the asana.