embodiment etudes

short somatic studies applied to yoga

integrating hand to shoulder

by julee snyder

We have now explored many of the key anatomical points from the hand to the shoulder and how they relate to yoga asana. We began balancing how we distribute the weight through our hands noticing how our choices, or habits, translate further up the limb into the torso.  Today I will begin to highlight certain key relationships of the hand to the shoulder.

These connections come from the Body-Mind Centering work.  First, the palm of the hand is related to the subscapular fossa, the anterior surface of the shoulder blade; and the back of the hand is related to the posterior surface of the shoulder blade.  The thumb relates to the coracoid process.  The pointer finger relates to the collar bone.  The middle finger connects to the center of the shoulder socket, the ring finger to the spine of the scapula, while the little finger relates to the lateral border.

Eight Tadasanas
Pause for a moment and come into tadasana, mountain pose.  1) Imagine water pouring across your shoulder blades, as you roll them back and down, and imagine that water dripping from your fingertips as you add the slightest little reach.  Feel the palms soft, open and full.  2) Bring the hands together in namaskar, prayer position.  Pressing equally through the full length of each finger, feel how this integrated the front and back of the chest and allows you to feel midline.  3) Now bring the hands overhead with the palms and armpits facing forward.  Let the two mirror one another, both softly yawning open.  4) Then turn the palms to face each other from the armpits.  Hold each of these positions for a few breaths to feel how the hand position relates to the shoulder blades, the chest, ribcage and the breath.  5) Now interlace your fingers and turn your palms up to the sky.  6) Steeple the hands and allow the the upper arms to lift as they draw close to the ears. 7) Bring the hands behind your back, holding the elbows as you spread the colar bones and softly knit the base of the ribcage.  8) Lastly, if you can, come into namaskar with the hands behind the back.  If there is any strain, modify or return to hold elbows or wrist.  As you do these, maintain a connection through your body to the earth through your legs.

Another great place to feel many of these connections is plank.  Come into a modified plank with the knees down and all of your weight on the outside of your hand.  Notice how there is little support for the front of your chest and all of the strain goes into the back of your chest.  Now do plank again with all of the weight on the inside of your hand.  What do you notice?   Do plank with the weight equally distributed through the hand and notice how this balances the inside and outside of your wrists, elbows, shoulders and arms, as well as the front and back of your shoulder girdle.  Continue to explore these connections in all of your poses, especially weight bearing poses.  But also begin to look for these connections in non-weight bearing poses.  How does the spread of the collar bones support your reach in warrior two, for example.

When looking at the pelvis and the pelvic floor, we began to see the significance of relating each side of the pelvis to its respective foot.  The same can be said for the hand to the same side shoulder girdle, thoracic inlet, and even the same side ribcage and thoracic diaphragm.  Begin to explore this concept on your own and we will revisit it when we talk about the body’s various horizontal supports, or diaphragms.

Happy practicing!

the shoulder

by julee snyder

We’ve already talked about the shoulder girdle which consisists of the scapula and the clavicle.  In that post, we looked at the six movements of the scapula: elevation, depression, protraction, retraction, upward and downward rotation.  Now we turn our attention to the shoulder joint, more specifically the glenohumeral joint.  This is a ball and socket joint consisting of the head of the humerus within the glenoid fossa of the scapula.

The glenoid fossa is a shallow socket designed more for mobility than stability.  Because the joint is so shallow, it is extended by a fibrocartilage ring attached the fossa margins called the glenoidal labrum.  The muscles of the rotator cuff (supraspinatis, infraspinatis, teres minor, and subscapularis) work to stabilize the shoulder socket.

There are six movements of the shoulder joint: flexion (raising the arms over head), extension (bringing the arms back to your sides from flexion),  abduction (taking your arms out to the sides away from midline), adduction (returning the arms back toward the midline), external rotation, and internal rotation.  During your next practice, ask yourself what movement your arms are doing in each pose.

When the shoulder blade is well situated on the rib cage and the muscles around the shoulder socket well-balanced, the head of the humerus will draw down and rotate as the distal end arcs upwards through space.  This keeps equal joint space on all sides of the joint and is protective.  If there is a muscle imbalance, the head of the humerus will not drop down so that when the arm elevates there is compression of the structures that travel between the humerus and the acromium.

As yogis, we must be careful not to over-strain or over-stretch the joint, especially in weight bearing positions.  Begin to notice if you are hanging into the ligaments and tendons of your shoulder joints, especially in weight bearing poses.  It is very common in downward facing dog.  We’ll talk more about the dome of the armpit in another post, but begin to feel that your armpits are both yawning open while also being buoyantly lifted by imaginary helium balloons floating underneath.  This will keep you from dropping too deeply and instead demand that you stabilize through your muscles around the joint.

Many activities build strength in certain areas and not in others.  And because yoga does not offer much opportunity for pulling in the arms, the muscles around the joint can sometimes be out of balance.  Plus many in our culture have forward scapular position.  Both of these things makes our shoulders more vulnerable to injury.  There is a lot to know about shoulders as they are very complex.  If you are having trouble, I encourage you to seek advice from a trained professional.  Theraband exercises, stability ball exercises, Pilates and more can offer a great balance to your yoga practice.

Happy practicing!