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Taking Care of our Shoulders in Chaturanga

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If you’ve been to a Vinyasa (flowing) style Yoga class, then chances are you’ve been put through the ringer on countless chaturanga flows between postures and really throughout the majority of the class. Chaturanga or Crocodile Pose is essentially a flow through a tricep push-up. With that in mind, alignment of the shoulder joint must be inline to the considerations made while performing a tricep push-up. However, because of quick transitions these important must-do cues are often missed. Considering the shoulders are the most common spot for chronic injuries in Yoga, the following tips should be kept in mind so we can all enjoy longevity in our Yoga practice.

1. Alignment of the hands: This is the most common thing I see as a teacher, and having learned the hard way after coming back from an elbow injury, something I focus on first with my students. Hands should be aligned to the shoulders. But, more particularly, with hands spread wide the middle finger should be aligned with the space between our anterior and medial deltoid. Or as I sometimes like to say that little divot in your shoulder when you raise your arm. When hands are too wide, not only does this impede our ability to maximize our core strength, over time it will most likely lead to a shoulder impingement where the only way to heal this is extended rest of the shoulder joint, or no yoga.

2. Shoulders back and down: This is one of our SPA (seven principles of alignment) at YogaFit and a very important cue through this movement. In an attempt to compensate for the added weight in the upper body, as the torso moves to the floor the shoulders shoot up towards the ears. While this might feel easier, you are actually taking away the opportunity to grow strength in the muscles required for this pose, and thereby never really progressing. Instead, think about shifting forward as you lower as oppose to lowering straight down.

3. Tucking elbows in: “Tucking in our chicken wings” a favourite cue by many yoga teachers. Elbows moving out to the side is often seen when there is a lack of shoulder stability and strength, as in point #2. Starting with rolling the shoulders back and down and initiating a small hug around the spine with the shoulder blades. As we move forward to lower, keeping our arms tucked in against our body. Now, only lowering as far as we can maintain this alignment and when we are ready moving straight to the floor.

4. Elbows in line to shoulders: When lowering to the floor, pay careful attention on lowering only so far as our elbows can maintain alignment to our shoulder level or even slightly below. The moment we lower past this line, we place additional stress on our anterior deltoid and essentially ask this smaller muscle to hold all our body weight, once again another potential long-term injury waiting to happen. When we stop at roughly the 90 degree line of our elbow, we can be assisted by the muscles of our upper back and core while lowering, and therefore keep our shoulder joint safe.

When we perform chaturanga with proper alignment as per above, we can feel confident that we are getting stronger in all the right spots the more often we perform this pose. Essentially getting exactly what we are looking for in our physical yoga practice: staying safe, getting stronger and becoming more mobile around our joints. Namasté.


Written by:
Lisa Greenbaum E-RYT 500

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