In my previous post, I talked about how yoga vinyasa focuses on load in the front muscles on the chest, specifically muscles that execute pushing. What about the pulling muscles in the back of the shoulders and upper back? Repeating a vinyasa/chaturanga sequence many times a class and many times a week can create a structural imbalance in the shoulder, which could lead to injury and pain down the line. What are some things you can do to help balance things out?
-If you are someone who practices a style of yoga which might feature 25-50 chaturangas in each class, consider laying off of a few here and there, especially if you have past or current shoulder issues. I’ve restricted my chaturangas to 10 or less in a flow class and teach other ways of strengthening the anterior muscles, including reverse plank or reverse table.
-Take a magnifying glass to your chaturanga dandasana – Do your shoulders “wing” out as you lower down? Do you have restricted muscles in the front of the body that affect your posture and ability to lower down in chaturanga?
-Do some soft tissue mobilization for your front body with the Roll Model® therapy balls, focusing on the pectorals and chest.
-Get to a Yoga Tune Up® class and start mobilizing and strengthening your rotator cuff pronto! There are a huge array of different poses to strengthen theses muscles, and some of my favorites are the matador circles, dolphin plank, and bodysurfing for starter.
Here is a video from YTU teacher Brooke Thomas that is a fantastic release for your pec minor.
Like this article? Read Get Serratus About Your Pec Minor.
Discover more solutions for shoulder pain.
I’ve known that too much Vinyasa, especially Chaturanga to Updog, can be hard on the shoulders and can cause injury. It’s good to know there are ways to balance the shoulders to avoid injury, rather than cutting back on your Vinyasa practice to avoid overdoing it.
A very helpful explanation for why too many chatturangas should be avoided, specifically when not enough strength-based movement in the upper back and shoulders aren’t included to balance out the pushing action in the front of the chest. And fantastic, instructive video for pec minor release! Very happy to learn this.
This post and your previous post just confirms what I see happening in my vinyasa classes all. the. time. I will often stop a flow class to do a mini-chaturanga workshop. Thanks for offering additional ideas and poses about focusing on the back body here.
Thank you! My shoulders are definitely not ready for several chaturangas or hand stands etc. after I started positioning my shoulders right. I need to strengthen them first and work on the rotation. Would a combo of releasing stress with tune up-balls and modified postures eventually get me there? Should I completely avoid chaturangas until then, or are a few just good and strenghtening? Namaste!
Thank you! Would you have any other suggestions on how to strenghten the shoulders to prepare them for both chaturangas and handstands in the future? Mine are not open enough for that rotation or strong enough. Thank you again!
I agree less is more! I’ve just recently been introduced to body surfing and the matador circles. They are great! I’m so looking forward to start adding these regularly in my yoga classes and in my practice.
I have spent so much time overworking my pushing muscles lately and when I went to do some pulling exercices, I realized how weak I was and how much ROM i had lost. Time to start looking into scaling down the pushes and increasing my pulling!
Great advice! I agree – too many chaturangas can lead to RSI!
After years and many hours of vinyasa my body was screaming at me. I thought I was strengthening it but I was creating a major imbalance. I started to reverse things on my own but lacked the greater understanding YTU has taught me. YTU has shown me a much greater way of balance, strength and release. My body is slowly recovering but gratefully so.
Thank you very much, Kayleigh, for the demonstration of this pec minor release and the reminder to both release tight muscles as well as balance opposing muscle groups. I too find that limiting Chaturanga Dandasana to a number of repetitions that can be practiced with good form (and also slowing down the movement) has been very helpful in my personal practice.
We did these exercises today in level 1 training, and it is amazing what it does to the shoulders.
In the case of chaturanga dandasana, not only do we over do it, but we also always want to go in the full version with full plank which, if the shoulders are not at the right position, can place a lot of strain on the joint. Practicing chaturanga dandasana with knees to the ground is a great way to practice the movement, activate the targeted muscles, but also place more concentration on the external rotation and depression of the shoulders and ensure a safe movement for the joint.
I love doing chaturangas but I am doing much fewer of them these days. This article was “right on” how that repetitive motion in many classes is creating an imbalance. I loved your suggestions of reverse plank and reverse table. I forget about those poses! Both the article and the corresponding video were great.
Great suggestion- 10 or less! I agree- Its really not necessary to do some many flows/
Great suggestions on balancing the muscles in the shoulders! As a vinyasa teacher in a community that LOVES to flow, I’m always looking for ways to keep classes interesting and challenging without loading a sequence with chaturanga.
I agree that too much focus on push ups can be destructive to many. I love that Yoga Tune Up has alternative ways to approach strengthening our rotator cuff muscles!
Thanks for the tips on rotator cuff exercises. I especially love the YTU angel arms.
Great tips for creating a balance of strength between the anterior and posterior bodies. I find that most people have massive blind spots when it come to our “pulling muscles”. Also, learning about the Serratus Anterior duties in plank and chaturanga was a total game changer for myself and my students. For me it was like tapping into an unused source of power, and for my students I could literally see the difference in their faces (less strain). I am so drawn to YTU because of it’s blind-spot-discovery qualities that are so memorable they literally translate off the mat into everyday life, and after all, that’s what it’s all about.
Love the tip on limiting chaturangas. Trying to do them fast is definitely hard on the shoulders- i think teaching a chaturanga to down dog properly is huge especially for people with rotator cuff injury. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles should be required in all classes if you’re going to be an avid down dog and chaturanga teacher.
This is a great point. Some yoga classes have far too many chatarangas, and I, too, will take breaks and simply not do all of them. Something else I’ll do is work on plank… protraction of the shoulders, micro bending the elbows and squeezing my arm bones medially toward the midline, and do a half (or just 1/3 or 1/4th) of a chataranga so that I’m strengthening the muscles around the joints, staying in control, and now allowing the weight that I’m bearing to sink into my joints. Do you think this is effective practice/instruction?
There is real lack of pulling movements in traditional yoga which creates upper body dis balance. it is a bit exaggerated but all this power vinyasa 100 chatarangas classes remind me those big guys in the gym spending hours on chest press bench. Their overtrained chest muscles pulling their shoulders in and creating dorsal hyper ksyphosis.
Thanks YTU for body surfing and Therapy balls. PS the video is great!
I cue my students to come down onto their knees and flex at the hips if they are unable to keep a neutral spine through their chaturanga. Thanks for articulating the WHY!
Love the video! I liked the verbal que’s to help find the pectoral minor and help to lengthen it out. I am interested to get on the mat and try reverse plank and reverse table to feel how the posterior muscles of the shoulder are being strengthened even when you are facing the opposite direction. I enjoy doing dolphins and body surfing so balancing out the shoulders seems like it will be fun.
For an extended period of time I felt an odd sensation in my right shoulder during chatturanga. The information from Yoga Tune Up Training and this article has opened my eyes to how to avoid poor alignment of the shoulders during this pose. I now have a greater proprioception of my shoulders and how to properly move them through this asana.
Breaking out of the mindset that somehow doing more chaturanga’s in a class makes it better is vital to shoulder health. I reference the phrase quality always trumps quantity in my own practice and in my teaching as well
YES YES YES!!! i keep saying this to my students!!!
Thanks Kayleigh, I love your idea of less chateranga and focusing on strengthening anterior muscles with reverse plank or reverse table. Also working on rolling out rotator cuff muscles will help improve shoulder strength and mobility.
Thank you for bringing awareness to this issue. I’m experiencing it in my own body and in the bodies of my massage clients. I even had to take a couple months off of doing massages last year because of tendonitis in my supraspinatus and biceps tendons. I thought the massaging itself was to blame. But I think years of executing this pose improperly and repeatedly may be more of the culprit. As with most things in this life, the key is quality over quantity.
I taught a yoga class last week that didn’t have a single downdog! I don’t know if anybody noticed, but there is a LOT more that can be accomplished without doing downdogs. There has to be balance and when you notice too many people doing incorrect down dogs, you realize and wonder how much longer before people suffer injuries. Not in my class
Very cool tip on limiting the number of chaturangas per class – it’s easy to get into it and forget that extreme repetitive motion isn’t usually so great, especially if we don’t balance it out with a counterpose. I’m going to begin incorporating the poses you mentioned into my routine, to counterbalance my flow classes and strengthen the opposite group of muscles. Great post!
I think its awesome that you give yourself permission to only do 10 chatarangas. I try to listen to my body when things start to feel imbalance but I’ve never tried quantifying how much of a move I should do for a season in life. This is something I’d like to explore. Thanks for the idea!
I like adding the arm rotation! I have the same issue from overhead pressing the barbell & bench pressing. In my class the instructor had us using an Alpha Ball & I was sold on the therapy balls ever since!
Thank you for this incredible pec release. I love how immediately you feel the difference in mobility after this release.
Thanks for bringing attention to the imbalances that can result from the repetitive upper body movements that are often overused in vinyasa classes. I think a lot of people could benefit from considering that “more is not always better,” in this case and many others.
Also, a good reminder how interconnected the shoulders and chest are.
Thanks so much for this blog. Ever since finding the strength in my serratus anterior, rhomboids and mid traps, my Chaturangas are looking much better – but I have to say that after a few, my form starts to become sloppy, so I just skip a few, or take a few on my knees. I’m excited to try the exercise in your video as I have been experiencing some sensitivity in the front of my shoulder. Thanks again!
I like the concept of balancing the opposing muscle groups as a way to not only avoid injuries but as a bad posture prevention mechanism too.
Thank you for introducing me to Chaturangua Dandasana. I am not a yoga practitioner but I find this pose to be very similar, and also have the same chalenges, as a regular push-up. I can see how a weak or troubled shoulder joint ( humeral joint) could worsen its condition especially if its range of motion is limited by its pectorals neighbors. For having practiced the “body surfer for beginners” pose today as a rotator cuff strengthening exercise, I totally understand the importance of including this exercise in my practice.