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.
Welcome to week 3 of Navasana play, yogis!
This week, we explore arm variations and kick our navasana game up a notch by turning it into Paripurna Navasana or FULL Boat Pose!
Similarly to last week, we’re investigating our relationships both to the strong physical requirements of the shape and to how the ego participates in making the choice that’s best for us. We’re still looking to honor our practice and bodies in every moment! Helping your students choose the right variation for them will keep all boats happily afloat. You won’t have to look out into a yoga room and see a bunch of sinking ships! (Too many puns yet?)
Onward to the muscular inner workings!
To attempt the fully extended arm variation of navasana requires full ROM for shoulder flexion. Normal full ROM here can be seen in the ability to take the arms up next to the ears without shrugging the scapula upward.
In technical terms: full shoulder flexion does not include scapula elevation, neck extension, or shoulder internal rotation. To maintain “proper” scapula upward rotation during shoulder flexion, the upper trapezius needs to fire to upwardly rotate the scapula and not extend the neck or elevate the scapula.
The valve we see often in full shoulder flexion is what we affectionately term “neck clog”: neck extension and scapula elevation where they’re not needed. For most, full shoulder flexion is an easy action, but may still require a great deal of re-patterning work to isolate both shoulder flexion from neck extension/scapula elevation and muscular effort from chronic tension in the neck.
- Strengthen the muscles that need to be strengthened
- Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major, biceps, coracobrachialis
- Scapula upward rotators: upper trapezius, serratus anterior, lower trapezius
- Lengthen what needs to be lengthened
- Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, triceps, teres major/minor
- Neck extensors: upper trapezius
- Re-pattern the movement
First, let’s look at our lengthening task: shoulder and neck extensors.
We think it’s important to lengthen what needs to be lengthened at the beginning of class as a way to prepare the musculature for what’s to come.
In this case, we could start class with some supine relaxation to release any residual tension from the body, and then come up to a seated position to move the neck and shoulders through simple actions to create normal mobility. We love to use Mukunda Stiles’ pavanmuktasana (joint freeing series or “JFS”).
From there we take the awareness gained from the JFS for neck and shoulders, move to the wall and practice navasana/DD with the hands on the wall and all the shoulder extensors to be lengthened (side note: for students who need increased strength more than length, this activity will challenge them appropriately as well).
Next we can begin to strengthen the shoulder flexors and scapula upward rotators.
This is a great place to play with gravity!
Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) is the exact same shape as paripurna navasana but flipped 180 degrees in space. Working to hold proper alignment of the shoulders in down dog is a great place both to work on shoulder re-patterning and also to build strength in the correct places to be able to maintain healthy shoulder alignment!
I strongly recommend leading your students through the clear action of shoulder flexion upright before trying to work on it in down dog. They must have an idea of what they are trying to do before the action is made harder by the more challenging relationship to gravity.
The many sides of truth
The change in the arms from navasana to paripurna navasana is just a mere 90 degrees of additional shoulder flexion or just “normal” everyday full ROM shoulder flexion.
Why then is it so gosh darn hard to keep the spine aligned, the legs extended, and lift the arms overhead?!
There are real reasons, of course, and all of them can be addressed in your class planning and execution. You can use targeted cueing to help your students find not just “hard” work but effort in effective places.
The Science Behind Paripurna Navasana
- Gravity. Gravity has come up a lot in our posts and will continue to do so, because it plays a huge role in why the same shape turned this way or that all of a sudden brings with it different challenges to our strength and flexibility. Gravity is why down dog –the same shape as navasana– is easily modified by bending the knees, but navasana requires a bit more time and effort to master. When we’re working with a shape that gravity makes challenging, we often teach our students to honor the inherent structure of the shape by simply flipping the shape so gravity is our friend (think navasana on your back). We’ll play with alignment in the shape there, then take the normal version and try the same alignment ideas with fresher proprioception.
- Open chain movement. Movements where the hands and/or feet are free to move are often more difficult than their closed chain counterparts. Down dog and navasana again provide a good example. Open chain movements require us to recruit more stabilization strength to hold. Can you think of other places in the practice where we can play with open vs closed chain versions of the same shape?
- Levers and physics and mechanical engineering, OH MY! Levers are mechanisms used to move loads more efficiently and there are three different classes of them! Being that the human body is one well-built machine, our bodies are full of levers that help us do incredible things! We’ll cover the physics in a follow up post next week, but suffice it to say that balancing straight legs and arms on the single point of your pelvis as the axis is just plain harder than lifting your hips up in the air when your hands and feet are on the floor (again see navasana vs down dog).
Practicing navasana, we can check in with each new variation to make a choice that keeps us sailing smoothly as the pose, and life, gets increasingly challenging. This week definitely kicks it up a notch as we bring the intention to help our students find their center (the spine) and practice methods for holding onto it through rough waves and stormy seas: first adding legs, then adding arms and legs!
What ways are you playing with these ideas this week?! Leave your comments here and on social to be part of the conversation!
Got a navasana variation to share? Head on over to Instagram and post your ideas using the hashtag #216INfrastructure.
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