Last month, I wrote an article about Chaturunga, which ended up causing quite a stir.
There are so many different approaches to Chaturanga Dandasana and my December post about it being a ‘shoulder shredder’ stirred up some healthy debate and questions from the Yoga community. Due to the overwhelming requests for additional information, this post is a follow up to last month’s blog. I headed into the Yoga studio, camera in hand, to capture examples of winging and protraction in Chaturanga Dandasana. After twenty minutes of long holds, with shaky arms and an increasingly sweaty Zobha top, the results are in.
Let’s start with your primary request: What does winging look like? In this first photo, you can see (particularly on the left side) the tips of the shoulder blades lifting off of the rib cage, casting shadow, as I dump into my front deltoilds (shoulders) and pecs (chest) to fight gravity. You’ll also notice the blades are squeezed together (rhomboid contraction) so much that there is back-cleavage happening and the muscles are all bunched up around my non-existent neck. Can you see how my shoulders have elevated up toward my ears to help take some of the weight? Rhomboids and trapezius are running amuck. Classic compensation.
The photo above is the result that is all too familiar: The instability can cause a chain reaction, including letting go of the lower abdominals (transverse abdominis), which makes my body feel even heavier. As I struggle to lower with control, I descend my face toward the floor giving me the illusion of lowering my body. Now I must resist the weight of my lowered head and hips with essentially with my upper back (rhomboids), pecs (chest) and shoulder (deltoid) muscles with no help from the shoulder primary stabilizer, the serratus anterior, to help control the descent. Notice that my shoulder blade has peeled off my back so much, it has lifted the strap of my top up too.
As I begin to lower into Chaturanga with my serratus anterior on, notice how far apart the blades are and how smooth the skin is. No shadows from winging blades. Even the straps from my top are further apart. The slope of my upper neck and back (trapezius) has returned here as my shoulder blades are also depressed down and away from my ears, all as a result from an active serratus anterior. I am pushing into the floor as hard as I can (as if to do Cat pose) as I bend my elbows to lower down.
This is the result. First, check out the straps to my top. They lie flat on shoulder blades that are glued to my rib cage. Because I’m pushing up against gravity as I lower, my entire abdominal core is active. I’m just shy of a 90 degree bend because I don’t feel the need to hit that angle in my practice. I still get plenty of work and I’m confident my shoulders are safe. My arm bones are kissing my ribs and elbows are pointing behind me as a result of maintaining the contraction of my external rotators (infraspinatus and teres minor) during the descent. (hint: Begin in Plank with your external rotators on, the ‘eye’ of the elbow forward, then simply bend your elbows maintaining the rotation)
It’s true, being a good instructor requires x-ray vision so we can see healthy alignment. Luckily, we have skin, joint angles, boney landmarks and handy Yoga top straps among other visual aids to guide us.These are the kind of tools you get from an integrated, embodied anatomy training. It’s a must-have for the safety of your own practice and your students. There are many Yoga Tune Up® Trainings scheduled in 2012 (including a YTU Level 1 Training I’ll be leading in Irvine, CA Jan 27th – Feb. 4th). Check out one near you!