The pectoralis minor is an often problematic muscle that lies deep to its better known companion the pectoralis major. This lovely muscle originates at ribs 3,4, and 5 and inserts on the medial surface of the coracoid process of the scapula. As our modern lives revolve around technology, we find an increased strain on our shoulders from the unnatural rounding stance and forward jutting head created from texting, hunching, and sitting at our keyboards; as such the pectoralis minor is a hot bed of tension and stress just waiting to be loved on and rolled out.
The major action of the pec minor is to stabilize the shoulder blade. More specifically it depresses, abducts, and downwardly rotates the scapula. Along with these actions it also assists in lifting the ribs during forced inhalation (a motion that can be seen in runners’ hard breathing after a race or an asthmatic in the midst of an attack).
As we look around our yoga classrooms at our students moving through the ever popular plank-chatturanga sequences, a common shoulder pattern arises. We see the inferior angle of the scapula lifting up off the ribs causing a ‘winging’ effect to occur. This ‘winging’ is in part due to overzealous pectoralis minors. The combination of shortened pec minors and inhibited serratus anterior leads to this destabilization of the shoulder. Which, over time, through repetitive stress and strain, can lead to shoulder impingement as well as more serious rotator cuff issues. Due to the anatomical placement of the pec minor on top of the brachial plexus (a big bundle of nerves), tightness in this muscle can lead to compression in these nerves and arteries leading to numbness and tingling in the arms.
Using Yoga Tune Up® we can combat our winged yogis with Therapy Ball rolling on the pec minor to encourage the muscle to release and relax, as well as, serratus anterior strengthening poses such as Megaplank with Active Serratus. As the serratus anterior is a synergist of the pec minor, strengthening this often inhibited muscle while lengthening the pec minor, becomes key in stabilizing the shoulder girdle and allowing for a longer lived yoga practice as well as a happier shoulder joint.
Although ball rolling is a great way to encourage blood flow and release into the pec minor there are other ways to stretch out the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor. YTU poses like Open Sesame, Shoulder Flossing and Dancing with Myself not only target the pec minor, but also give love to the surrounding muscles allowing for an all around happier shoulder! Aside from YTU poses the number one way to combat tight pec minors is everyday posture. Take note of how you sit/stand at work as well as at home, in the car, watching TV, working out, playing with your kids, teaching, taking a yoga class…. Stop the hunching and stand up straight! Ribs over pelvis, shoulder blades gliding into place. Own your posture so it doesn’t own you!