On day 3 of YTU Level 1 yoga teacher training, Jill took us through a shoulder sequence which culminated in Downward Facing Dog. It took 2 hours. I ran the following emotional gamut: mild amusement, boredom, impatience, seriously? don’t we get to down dog pretty early in “normal” yoga classes? frustration, I paid for this? what ring of hell is this, exactly? who does this chick think she is and what does she know anyway?
And finally Jill called out “Downward Facing Dog.”
Thank GOD. Hey…wait a minute…my shoulders don’t hurt. Ok, maybe she does know something after all.
And thus began my conversion to the long, slow warm-up—especially for shoulders.
Historically speaking, my quads have owned my body strength. An old (non-yoga-related) rotator cuff injury furthered compromised what I felt was an already weak upper body. But through the course of YTU Upper Body Ball sequences (especially rotator cuff) and extensive YTU shoulder, spine and core warm ups, one day I found myself floating (floating!) right into Crow. And loving it.
What I found was the ball sequence didn’t just feel good, it healed my injury by increasing circulation in the area and enlivening my poor overused rotator cuff and overlooked serratus muscles. The warm ups didn’t just prepare my body for this particular arm balance, they strengthened my shoulders and upper back so my muscles could do the work and I didn’t dump all of my body weight into my shoulder joints. I gained confidence about my pose and lost my fear of re-injuring my rotator cuff because I learned to identify and strengthen all the surrounding muscles. Knoweldge. Is. Power.
Another of my favorite YTU Shoulder poses is Raise the Chalice – here it is, and for a full Tune Up you can get it on the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders video!
Take care of your shoulders. – Read the article.
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Watch our Free 5-Minute Quickfix: Shoulders Video
I love how you connected the dots here about a long slow shoulder warm-up and how that makes the difference between coming into a pose we will often find 5 minutes into any yoga class. It’s amazing how preparation can make all the difference.
This article is such a great reminder of the importance of shoulder warm-ups. I’ve taken many yoga classes where instructors didn’t put enough time into warming up the shoulders, but for some reason I never connected this to why my arm balance practices were inconsistent – sometimes I was able to hold them with ease and sometimes I wasn’t. However, more recently I’ve started being more intentional in my home practice and focusing on really strengthening my shoulders and core, and it’s done wonders for my arm balances. Thanks for sharing!
Just went through this sequence yesterday. What an eye opener eh?!
Great title and tie-in with the pose 😉 I actually had the opposite reaction in class. I was thrilled we weren’t doing downward-facing dog all the time as many yoga classes do. I appreciate so much how YTU walks you into a pose with lots of warm-up and muscle engagement. Down dog is a challenging pose for me but the YTU instructions of which muscles to engage and the idea that not everyone’s body is made for down dog and is better supported in dolphin was revolutionary for me.
Amen, sister! Just had a similar experience in my level one training. I thought “really, we are going to spend two hours prepping for Down Dog?” But once we got there I realized I’d never really felt what truly congruent shoulders felt like. I had already experienced the “miracle” of a little nagging recurring impingement seeming to melt away under the therapy balls.
I just joined the 2 hour down dog club and couldn’t agree with you more in the experience of getting there! I have been left humbled by the fact that before today I have always believed that my trapezius and rhomboids were my shoulders! I had no idea how far laterally the scapula actually sit and almost no awareness of my serratus muscles. This is the first time that after doing down dog I don’t feel a pinching sensation in the muscles of my upper thoracic back.
Christine, you make a point, is very important the warming of the body and I add that is also important the way we activate our muscles to perform a correct pose of our body, all abuse of a pose is bad, but even worse when we do it wrong. Thanks for sharing your experience
Since YTU training I’ve been practicing and teaching Megaplank with Active Serratus, followed by an abdominal core sequence and have noticed a tremendous change in my own practice floating into crow. This has translated to a newfound ability for many of my students who were previously struggling since crow, as they are now able to hold steadily in balance since they are not collapsing into their shoulder girdle and wrists.
Lots of warmup leading to 1 downward facing dog = A LOT OF WORK! Feeling IT!
Definitely on to something here methinks…..
just finished day three myself so the intro made me smile. i thought the warm up would never end and i was ready to give up when we had to explore dolphin for the third time. the feeling after the class was however amazing so sometimes you just have to remember “no pain (the good kind) – no gain”. a safer and more functional dog is something we all should strive for and to get there you got to to the work, even if it means lots of warm up and only one little downward facing dog.
On Day 3 of YTU teacher training (today), Jill asked us “who has pain or issues and injuries with their shoulders?” I do not have pain when moving shoulders, and (aside from 4 car accidents 18-20 years ago)- no current, acute shoulder injury, so of course, I did not raise my hand. And so, we proceeded into the shoulder material leading to downward dog.
When the Tune Up balls hit my rotator cuff and upper back, I very quickly realized that I in fact have tremendous pain in all the muscles associated with my shoulders. Then when trying to externally rotate and extend my shoulders, it was more evident that I had pain and imbalance. I was immediately reminded that I not only have to teach this material, I need to do it myself. And more importantly – a light bulb went off for me- pain to the touch and not just pain through range of motion are indicators of issues in that area! And even with my limitations, then end pose- Downward Dog – felt great!
I can’t wait to take this to my students. Props are a great way to communicate body awareness and accurate muscle contraction. It is tougher to ‘cheat’ in poses with the use of props.
I have to agree! The movement prep aspect of YTU is absolutely brilliant. You can actually build an entire class out of movement prep poses culminating in the piece de resistance of a peak pose. And the peak pose feels triumphant!
I love raise the chalice. The shoulder lubrication feels so good and I especially love the end when the head is resisting the block. I have chronic neck pain, and subsequently a lot of fear around neck movements. This pose took away that fear because of the block being used as support. We also did the upper body ball sequence, which to my surprise, dramatically increased my shoulder range of motion. My arms easily floated into alignment with my ears during overhead flexion, which I normally cannot do, and which I couldn’t do when we did the shoulder assessment prior to the upper body ball sequence. amazing.
I hear you on this! I am in the final days of the training. During the 4 days off I have taught a few classes and have not been using the balls. I did my best to incorporate some YTU poses I have learned but found teaching all together stumping after being exposed to Jill’s method of teaching. She is brilliant and challenges any yogi or teacher to seriously live better in their bodies. I just hope that for all those that practice daily have learned correctly how to stay safe in their shoulders from their teachers and that the knowledge of yoga tune up be more widely known among instructors.
I have such new respect for warming up the shoulders for Downward Dog after the master class on shoulders! I love ‘raising the chalice’ and then going back to bridge arms was an amazing way to fire the serratus and then give the pecs a great stretch. I also love mega plank…what a way to strengthen the core, shoulders ,the entire center line. Love it!
I have been using the balls in my stretch classes and my class participants love them. I am excited to get new tools from the teacher training, and like the attention to detail that Jill gives us. On day 3 of YTU training, it is the first time I actually connected with my body in downward dog.It finally clicked. Nobody had ever told me to protract and depress my shoulders!
shoulders and upper body strungth for arm balancing poses has become more and more difficutl for me as I approach my retirement years ( not retired from life – just the official age entitled to social security – for as long as it exists). Anyway, movemment of the shoulders in many different and odd angles, sometimes unexpectedly causes a twinge. I can’t quite identify the muscle since I am usually moving fairly quickly through the range. One thing I have learned in Tune-Up trainig is the use of the balls behind the scapula and across the upper chest under the clavicle ( a very difficult place to access sine the nose and face is in the way ) Use of the block to raise head away from the floor or the face away from the wall in brilliant.
I just finished day 3 of YTU training and couldn’t help but laugh at your post! That’s how I felt yesterday (the gamut of emotions). I was most suspicious of the mega plank and even asked a local YTU teacher to explain more. I had only seen it on one of Jill’s blogs on another website. I’ve been studying Anusara for the past 7 years and the megaplank contradicted years of being yelled at to “melt my heart.” After all of the intense shoulder warm up and waking up of the serratus, I feel amazing strong in my shoulder girdle. It’s amazing that we do DD for a warm up pose in most styles of yoga. I am quickly becoming a Jill Miller devotee!
After day 2 of teacher training with Jill I agree-she takes warming up/preparing the body to a whole new level! But I love it, gives me a new perspective on “simple”poses and a lot of material to take into teaching, especially when teaching beginners. And, I LOVE the ball work prior to movement, what a difference!
I have been in a few teacher trainings where the culmination pose is the last one you do, but by the time you get there, you’re too exhausted to do it. It’s just: do it a little bit, then do it more, then more, then finally wow! Look at me! I’m so deep in the pose I’m about to break something! Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit.
But in YTU, I’m noticing that even the warmup poses feel tough in one way or another, but it’s the beauty of all that preparation in the different parts of the body that makes the culmination pose feel fantastic! The key to YTU seems to be that it’s all designed to aid the posture in all its different aspects. And it takes into account the purpose of the pose in the first place. In other words, downward facing dog is a lovely all-body stretch, especially the back body. Its purpose is in this shape-making flexion in the hips and shoulders, dorsiflected feet, that lovely wrapping external rotation in the shoulders with the elbows extended, the elongating feeling of the tadasana spine with serratus anterior activated, oooh, and the anterior tilt of the pelvis which touches the sky. THAT’s the purpose of Downward Dog, NOT to be in it deeper than the next person or deeper than the last time you did it, which was twenty seconds ago. In YTU, we activate everything but in creative, different ways so we’re not exhausted, just exhilarated.
I too have just finished day three in the YTU TT. What a day. It almost seemed like downward dog didn’t matter any more, I became so immersed in the preparations. I was surprised at how tired I got in the simple shoulder circle exercise and epaulet arm circles, not to mention the the dreaded Matador! It is really good for my ego, because I like to think of myself as being super strong. Ha! I loved the rolling, it was so informative to see the supraspinatus in the book, look at the skeleton model to see how it fit onto the head of the humerus at the greater tubercle and into the supraspinous fossa of the scapula, learn about the actions and directions of movement– and then to actually roll on the muscle with the ball! Now I will never forget where that muscle sits. Then the infraspinatus and the teres minor followed (“Ow ow ow! I didn’t even know that was tight!”), and finally the subscapularis. The subscapularis was very exciting. Feeling it on myself was fine, but finding it on someone else’s body afterwards was a real adventure. When do you ever get to stick your fingers deep into someone else’s underarm? Only in YTU. A very rich day indeed.
Thank you for sharing your experience with your asana practice (particularly with crow pose). Early on in my own practice, I also developed a habit of using other parts of my body to compensate for my weak upper-body strength. This often lead to misaligned poses or avoiding the pose completely. WIth that said, I loved your emphasis on preparation and focusing on the key muscles involved in each pose as a tool to help people rise (or “float) into poses. Although I do not have a lot of experience with the YTU balls, I look forward to seeing how they can help me warm up my muscles and gain access to more poses in my yoga practice.
I love that you one day floated into crow – with the help of preparation. I am in Level 1 training now and I am in awe of the details. As you found out that with the right movements and preparation, you can successfully get into a pose without the strain. I have a lot of studying to do 🙂 Thanks again for your post. It was honest and very helpful for me. A pose isn’t just one pose – it can be the reward from other movements that allows the body to intelligently find the space and alignment.
Very cute introduction, and since I am in YTU teacher training I can identify with everything you said. I really enjoyed all the warming up of the shoulders and using the therapy balls. It felt great to have all the circulation in that area. As we age, these issues with the shoulder start to emerge as a result of doing sports without proper conditioning. Personally I will definitely incorporate more warm ups and strength exercises for the shoulder.
The shoulders day…ahhh. It was the longest day of prep ever. I too have shoulder architecture and repetitive motion issues, the prospect of two and half hours of shoulder work was not sounding so appealing. However, it led to a HUGE breakthrough for me that day. In twelve years of practice I had never been able to do GoMukhasana arms and that day, I did. And not for nothing, it was the most open Downward Facing Dog I’d ever felt. It’s great to have that feeling as part of my kinetic memory.
I remember Day 3 of the training (less than a week ago for me) to be a particularly long and challenging day. But there was a lot of new material I learned – the most important being the need to protract the shoulder blades in downward facing dog to turn on the serratus anterior, supporting your shoulders and rotator cuff. I have naturally flexible shoulders, meaning I have a large range of flexion, and for years I’ve been RETRACTING my scapula because it just felt natural, leaving my shoulders to feel bouncy and springy trampolines instead of strong and solid as they should be to protect the architechture of the shoulder. Now I feel like shoulder girdle and arms are protected and supported and it’s translated into poses with a similar shoulder positioning, like crow and side-crow, which came a lot easier after 4 days of YTU training. Knowledge IS power.
I have no doubt that YTU is revolutionizing the approach to asana. Most of my yoga teacher friends have had at least one injury during their years of practice from pushing too hard into poses instead of warming up and allowing their bodies in. A tip of the challis to Jill : )
I love the YTU balls to get into the crevices of my shoulders, particularly beneath the trapezius into the rhomboids, and on retraction, I feel like I can even access my subscapularis (bliss!). As far as floating into Crow/Crane — Not there yet, but I feel like it’s not my shoulders or wrists any more that are my limitation — rather, it’s my hips, another candidate for ball work.
I’ve recently been using my YTU balls before any yoga practice to massage out my shoulders, upper back and neck. What a difference this has made to my tight and limited range of movement that I have in my shoulders, chest and upper back. I finally feel like their is more space when I flex my arms overhead either in the air or on the ground during arm balances. This has taken my practice to a whole new level and I am excited to learn that their is a possibilty to relieve the shoulder pain that I have had from a previous non-yoga related injury in my childhood.
Thanks for sharing ! xx
I recently shared my YTU balls with my mom who has been complaining of shoulder and neck pains this whole year. After a week of “rolling on the balls” she has noticed less pain and stress in her shoulder and neck area…the balls are a great way to loosen the fascia and increase flow of oxygen in the muscles. As one YTU instructor noted “the balls rehydrate your muscles which often suffer from dehydration.”
I came into the YTU teacher training with injuries in both shoulders; including a broken collar bone (marital arts fall gone wrong), blunt impacts from bicycle falls, and a rotator cuff repetitive strain from painting ceilings. All of them under control but lurking just off stage. By the end of day 2 all the old injuries were announcing their locations and radiating outward. By the end of day 3 they had all quieted right down. Especially, that rotator cuff strain, that zone hadn’t worked so hard over the first three days of the training in years and it felt the best it had in years. The YTU movement preparations are so useful both therapeutically and as preparation for demanding poses. In class, students always request shoulder work, and now I have a greatly expanded toolkit for them and for myself.
I agree with you. All the pre-shoulder work makes for a safe downdog in the shoulder area and thank you for including the raise the chalice pose
hahaha, i love this! the beginning of the blog made me LOL. Yes, Jill does know an awful lot… I am often surprised that we do not warm up in a class, as we go through 1000 asanas– my mind goes the other direction/ why am i here? why am i doing these poses and the favorite, why does my shoulder/elbow hurt so bad? preparation is key/knowledge is such a gift!
Thanks for sharing the importance of warming up each component part of the pose, which is meticulously and wonderfully structured in the preparation of down dog. Interestingly I hit at this first blog coincidentally, tonight, having completed the third day of the YTU training. Similar thoughts occured in my mind as you described in the beginning of the article, till about one and a half hour of the class, aimed to the peak pose, the down dog. However, as we reached at the pose called, dolphin Supinate the wisdom of doing this sequence unfolded to a great extent.
Coupled with the step by step poses and the marvelous teaching style of Jill, and great assistants in the training, I thank myself that I took the decision, to take this training even amidst many odd situations in my life. The decision is well rewarding.
The new buzz word is “movement preparation.” Warming up is vague and has a lot of connotations already associated with it. Raising the core temperature of the body is important, but preparing the body for advanced postures requires much greater thought.
This post illustrates how most people are unfamiliar with the idea of movement preparation. We are used to doing some sun salutations and some standing poses to warmup. Then doing some poses that are supposed to prepare us for other poses. However, the YTU movement preparation is more thorough and thought out. It involves more specific work on strengthening specific muscles, stretching certain muscles, mental preparation and alignment.
My experience with the YTU shoulder warmup programs was very similar. I have been practicing for 10 years and was never, I repeat NEVER, able to do Go Mukhasana arms. Naturally tight shoulders, cycling, computers, etc. After the long shoulder routine and careful rolling on the balls. Bam! Go Mukhasana arms. It was an amazing thing. What a difference!
I’ve also experienced how warming up tight areas of the body can be so beneficial – especially when you are recovering from an injury. About a year ago, I was forced to limit my yoga practice while recovering from a tear in my supraspinatus. I had aggravated the injury by practicing with less-than-optimal form in poses – especially in Chaturanga. As you mentioned, I worked toward stretching my shoulders and strengthening surrounding muscles to take the pressure off my rotator cuffs. When I resumed my yoga practice, I was amazed at how much better I felt! Warming up the muscles loosens you up so you are better able to use proper alignment. Which brings me to crow pose… which I hadn’t even attempted for a while, in fear of hurting my shoulder. But when I did, it felt like a different pose – much less scary and more grounded, because I felt like I was supporting myself properly. I can’t say I’m exactly *floating* into crow just yet – but I’m getting a lot closer!
I had a similar experience with Crow (a difficult pose for me). I spent the first 90% of the class doing a lot of poses that focused on shoulders. I was also amazed when I effortlessly (well almost effortlessly!) moved into Crow. I tried to replicate the pose the next day at home (without all the shoulder work) and was unable to do it. Thanks for calling attention to an overlooked part of practice.
Crow pose is such a struggle for me, so I was immediately drawn to this article. I recently started to use the YTU balls and I was amazed at how quickly they warmed up the muscles and how I could ease into poses following the warm up sequence. I also connected with your inner-dialogue you mentioned in your post. Every time I attempt crow pose in a class I have inner conflict and ultimately end up giving up before fully committing to the pose. It is my hope that the shoulder sequence combined with inner confidence will ultimately lead me towards a crow where I float into it! Thanks for the advice!
I have a chrnoic shoulder injury myself and many of my students and clients also have injuries or limited ROM in the shoulders. Warming up to poses like Downward Facing Dog, or even just staying in the warm up moves, becoming familiar and friendly with the serratus anterior, and adding YTU® Therapy Balls to the mix, has made a huge difference in my shoulder. It is still cranking at times especially without warm ups and I have to be aware of what moves to do and not do, but so much better. I have noticed the same or similar benefits with students and clients as they increase ROM and strength and awareness in this critical area.
I’m perplexed by the title of this blog post, but I can relate to it. When a teacher properly warms you up, you are able to go so much deeper and achieve poses that are typically difficult with ease. I think the moral of the story here is to properly sequence warmups to prepare the body for arm balances and inversions. Your students will be surprised at how easy these poses can feel with properly opened shoulders.