Today's Daily Tip
If you were getting ready for a backbend practice, how would you open your shoulders in preparation? If I told you that the backbends would include Ustrasana (Camel Pose), Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), but not Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward-Facing Bow Pose, sometimes called Wheel), would you change your preparation? Does your planning take into account that shoulder flexibility in one direction doesn't necessarily contribute to flexibility in another direction? To significantly deepen your work in a given pose-Ustrasana, for example-you need to focus on opening the specific shoulder range of motion you need for that pose.
So what is the difference in shoulder motion between Camel, Bridge, and Bow, on the one hand, and Wheel on the other? Before narrowing our focus to these very specific movements, it will help to take a look at the structure and movement possibilities of the shoulder. What we call "the shoulder" is actually a combination of the scapula, or shoulder blade, and the gleno-humeral joint, the actual ball-and-socket shoulder joint. The gleno-humeral joint is formed by a ball on the end of the humerus (upper arm bone), which fits into the glenoid fossa, a shallow socket that is part of the scapula. Together, the shoulder joint and shoulder blade can perform an amazing variety of movements, and yoga, in one pose or another, uses them all.
To better incorporate the correct shoulder movements into all your poses, it's very important to understand that the scapula and the ball-and-socket joint each has its own separate set of movements. The movements of the scapula include elevation (lifting your shoulder blades up toward your ears), depression (returning the blades toward their normal position-hopefully, away from the ears), retraction (pinching the blades toward the spine), and protraction (pulling the blades away from the spine toward the chest). The scapula also has two rotational motions that occur in conjunction with certain movements of the arm. (For now, let's set those aside; I a column on TKshoulder flexion, the movement needed for Upward-Facing Bow, Handstand, and many others.) Additionally, the scapula has a position I call "forward tipping," which is commonly associated with collapsed-chest posture. It's a combination of anatomical movements in which the outer corner of the blade near the end of the collarbone sags forward and the bottom tip of the blade may lift up off the rib cage and poke out to the back.
Even though the scapula forms the foundation for the ball-and-socket shoulder joint, the shoulder joint has its own set of movements; the technical terms for these movements actually describe the movements of the upper arm bone in relation to the scapula. To help learn the movements and their anatomical names, you might want to move your arm and say the name as you read these descriptions. If you stand with your arms by your sides and then bring your arms forward and up next to your ears, that's called shoulder flexion. Yes, flexion. Even though you may often hear "Extend your arms up overhead" in your yoga classes, the proper technical anatomical term for this movement is flexion. The opposite of flexion is extension: With your arms by your sides, bring them straight back behind you. Starting with your arms by your sides, palms facing in, other shoulder joint movements include external rotation (palms turn forward), internal rotation (palms face back), and abduction (arms lift out to the sides and then follow overhead). To help learn these terms better, you might try naming the shoulder action needed for a given yoga pose. For example, you use 90 degrees of abduction in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and full flexion in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose).