Chaturanga dandasana and arm balances are a strong foundation to power and ashtanga practices. These types of postures can create strong pectoralises, triceps, anterior deltoid and, when properly executed, serratus anterior. There are also many resources online describing how to execute these postures correctly and with proper alignment. My concern is with the delicate balance of the shoulder and the repetitive building of the push muscles of the shoulder, without building the complimentary pull muscles.
There are many within the yoga community that assert that ‘yoga’ (whatever that means in its ever broadening definition) is a complete practice. And, I might even argue that some types of yoga are complete. However, if your yoga practice includes a strengthening push component, I urge you to consider that your asana practice should include some sort of pull focus.
Traditionally, there are very few pull focused postures. One included in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is Archer’s pose (Akarna Dhanurasana), but outside of that, you might struggle with building posterior deltoid, rhomboid, lower trapezius and the external rotators of the shoulder with your asana practice.
I have heard the argument that many of the push muscles antagonists are activated in the forward folds, a dangerous idea for beginners with tight hamstrings which can lead to any number of injuries from bulging discs to separation of the hamstring from its origin, but even in the more advanced practitioners the activation does not balance the strength built by repeatedly sustaining the full body’s weight in the arms.
The problem, as I see it, is that many of us (especially those of us who sit at a computer or who text a lot) are chronically in internal shoulder rotation, making proper postures a challenge. Proper alignment is a challenge due to the imbalance that the strong push focus of a strong power practice requires. This means that we are likely locking the muscles of the front shoulder short, rounding forward. When muscles get locked short, their antagonists are locked long. Those muscles locked long are frequently the muscles where chronic pain becomes an issue. In this case, the muscles locked long are the trapezius, the infraspinatus and the rhomboids. In fact, the strengthening of these muscles are often just what the doctor ordered, in treating some of the injuries resulting from an imbalanced focus of strength building of push versus pull and the accompanying chronic pain that can accumulate in these tissues.
I have also observed in those who have strong asana practices where there isn’t some sort of complimentary practice that there is often inflammation in the tendon of subscapularis. If the front (the anterior portion) of your deltoid feels sore, push a little deeper, you’ll notice that the tendon of subscapularis there. If the soreness increases as your fingers “jump” from side to side of the tendon, it’s likely that it’s inflamed. Yoga Tune Up® balls and massage are the perfect antidote to inflammation.
Bottom line, what I am suggesting is that if your yoga practice includes push muscle strengthening that you consider finding ways to add pull muscle and external rotation strengthening to your yoga practice. I find a lot of yogis and yoginins love to climb and boulder, this is perfect. But others, who are not so inclined, might want to start adding pull ups to their daily routine. This type of addition to your practice will not only help with your shoulder strength, but another side benefit is that it will actually help you sit with better posture.
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Thanks for your observations. Yoga is a balance. Push/pull is a great way get students to think about cross training. This makes me think I can offer Body Surfing or Floating Angel Arms into a class for a bit of the pulling we lack as yogis.
In my physio practice, a lot of my exercise-based rehab is around balancing an equal push:pull ratio. I love things like the old-school graviton pull up machine to teach people to open their chest at the top (for those who don’t know; it is a weighted pull up machine that uses your body weight to help decide the level of assist) and I find it works REALLY well to balance a lot of pushing as push ups are an easy exercise to do at home, on the counter, or at the gym (with the goal of trying to accumulate 100 too many reps before injury). This machine is pretty prevalent in most gyms! Also using a simple resistance band for shoulder retractions with a 10sec hold will counter those muscles as well.. crossover symmetry has been a lifesaver for creating those strong anterior/posterior connections to keep my shoulders safe and pleasantly healthy and strong!
This information is huge and a great reminder for me as a coach to be mindful of the daily positions my clients find themselves in and to help them combat the effects of those positions. Like a desk worker as mentioned or what about most men who want better looking bodies and start the week with international chest day with enthusiasm and lose that same energy for building the posterior chain. With a stable posterior chain, we become more stable for daily life and eventually for the enthused bench presser to push more than previous and maintain the shelf life of those shoulders. This article was posted before international chest day became a thing which I find impressive. Thank you
Great article – So many individuals suffering from rounded shoulders – muscle imbalances could benefit so significantly just by realizing they need to strengthen their pulling muscles
Great information! I am delighted to find more work with “pulling” through PNF and specific Yoga Tune Up® exercises. Thank you for explaining so well why we should pay attention to this delicate balance of push and pull in the Yoga space.
Thank you for this article. I was one of those yogis who only practised yoga. I quit the gym right after i found yoga, since i thought it was exactly the same thing – a work out, but better. An of course, i got injured. I see so many students that i teach, unable to perform a pull movement- they all push rather than pull. So the YTU poses have helped me to introduce tiny pull movements to my yoga classes, to encourage these Pull muscles to activate and strengthen.
As a “crossfitter” along with yogi I have always tried to find a way to bring pulling into my yoga classes. But it was a way too simplistic thought processes – I simply thought we should be balanced and we are out of balance with too much pushing in yoga. I never thought about these muscles balancing each other out for good posture. Great Information. I think YTU does a decent job of bring pulling into the mix with “poses” like frog crawls, different PNF techniques, body surfing…all poses that will find their way into my classes going forward!
I practiced yoga for years before realizing there was a) a bad way to do chaturanga and b) the thing that was missing in my practice was any pull motion. Since I’ve introduced rock climbing into my fitness regime I’ve noticed that I can also recruit other parts of my shoulder (now that I’ve improved their strength and my proprioception).
Great article. It’s refreshing to hear an instructor talk about balancing of muscles. I have been finding in yoga classes that I have taken and not from you that this balance of agonist and antagonist has not been in the class.
Thank you for today todd and thank you for sharing this article. I agree completely. Since developing my pull strength, I have felt so stable and strong!
This post is so helpful. Once again, I am amazed at how YTU looks at movement so holistically. It is interesting for me to know now that pain can come from a locked long muscle. I appreciate how YTU is inventive and creative when it comes to movement and so to be recommended a basic pull up here is refreshing for me who comes to YTU not as a yogi.
I tested my subscapularis tendon and indeed – it is sore.
Thanks for the reminders at the end of the post to be mindful of the basic directions of movement that I need to be more aware of in order to balance my push with some pull.
Totally agree! I find it really hard to find way to integrate pulling into asana practice – although I try to create movements that activate the pulling muscles, there is not a lot of ways to create resistance to the movement so that you are actually pulling. Now I hop on to the monkey bars at the playground when I bring my kids just to try to wake up my sleepy “pulling” muscles, but it is definitely going to be awhile before they are roused from their coma!
I am so happy to read this article and your recommendation with balance and physical diet we need to integrate into our lives. Asana is great but only focusing on it, can cause “inflammation” and overuse and injury to a yogi. The delicate balance of other integrations are so key to maintaining ones on self care! Your focus also on not enough pull in yoga practice rings so true. Integrating YTU poses like bodysurfing, matador circles etc… will help students to rethink the strength integration in their practice along with taking them out of the narrow thinking they can sometimes have with a traditional practice. Thinking beyond the “boxana” is key. Thanks for sharing.
Todd, your knowledge of anatomy is inspiring. I had never considered an inflamed subscapularis tendon as part of my shoulder pain but when I did as you suggested, I found it! This is a great article to share with clients and friends whose shoulder muscles have locked into internal rotation to encourage them in strength-building and I will re-read it myself to further cement the anatomy knowledge in my own brain.
Excellent point that not only needs to be heard and taught in the fitness realm, but for yogis as well.
It’s funny how most exercises, even ones like yoga which seem to be pretty full-body, are likely missing a major balancing act. I used to train competitively for triathlons, and I felt like the combination of running, cycling, and swimming was pretty well-rounded. I even would do some bikram yoga to get some “balance” lol don’t judge me this was 2007 and I didn’t have many options back then. Point is, there was always something I could have done better, and yes now with yoga and other mobility exercises, there is always something that we can do better. I guess it’s a constant game of cat and mouse and listening to our body, discovering it’s blind spots, and doing the best we can for whatever our health goals may be.
Love the body surfing we did today, that’s why I read this blog. Thought I replied to it yesterday, but just in case, doing it again. I feel that lat pulls and rows using bands and or weighted resistance are an important part of back strengthening as well. Another one I might suggest is lying prone, going into a small back extension and mimicking lat pulls form this position. I simply ask students to form the letter V and pull down to W. What is really happening is shoulder extension with external rotation, 1/2 abduction, elevation in the V and then pulling down is shoulder depression, maintaining external rotation and flexion of the elbow to adduct while contracting the lats in the W. Thanks for the great info, Todd!
Such an important point you have made here Todd! Strength work must be done through the full range of movement of the shoulders for proper muscular balance and great posture! Thank you!
One of the many reasons that I’m so fortunate to have Kathryn Bruni-Young guide me in my practice! I’m thinking that her brand of yoga is as close to complete as the practice gets, and the push/pull dichotomy is the perfect example.
I guess Bodysurfing is one of easiest ways to counteract all that pushing in Yoga thereby activating those important pulling muscles and bringing the upper body into balance. Sitting really is the new smoking! I see so many people with neck and shoulder problems that makes it difficult for them to push and to pull. They easily come out of alignment with pulling exercises such as lat pulls and and rows, but once they understand some simple biomechanics , they quickly love doing these exercises. I often help them learn these exercises with simple elastic bands. From now on everyone will be Bodysurfing as well!
I have been practicing Yoga for 10 years now and have learned that I needed other forms of practice to round out the feelings in my body. I had suffered from pain for years and learned that any one repetitive movement makes me feel like cement. I loved learning the body surfers and the frog crawls. These types of movement keep me well rounded and help me to feel like I am keeping the whole body active. Pull, Push, Press,Tuck, Roll… move all the ways your body can and keep the tissue smooth
It was a revelation for me as I practised Frog Crawls class : I was unable to pull myself forwards! WOW!
This super-relevant information and the well-chosen videos related to it help me better understand what happened at the muscular level: implication of the deltoid, rhomboid, lower trapezius and the external rotators of the shoulder. Strengthening these muscles most often stretched in my practice is a new step towards progression ! And, of course, to swim frog ! 🙂
Excellent article. I see the same thing in the gym. Not only do people resort to pulling through their neck, chest , they don’t know how to tap into external rotation. I’ve started incorporating rolling for teres minor and pecs, Body Surfing, Pin the arms on the Yogi (or meathead!)and Angel Arms to help people tap into these muscles.
Great great great article! Couldn’t agree more! Even as a climber, climbing coach and working at a gym, we see that often. Lots of climbers are in internal rotation too, but yes they lack of antagonist muscles… (and flexibility! I send them to yoga class!) But even doing pull ups, I presume people don’t always train the proper way to recrute external rotators and upper back muscles (romboids, of instance).
So agree that yoga lacks the pulling motion.i also loved the body surfing.i row a few times a week and have found it to be fun as long as I have music since it is so repetitive.body surfing is a great exercise to do with kids get them away from their iPads and desks.
Todd shared ‘body-surfing’ with our YTU class on Day 1. As an RMT where ‘push’ is the name of the game; and a Yoga teacher (ditto) this move kind of blew my mind because, A. it was SUPER hard and B. I have so many people in my world (especially me) who can benefit from this!
Thanks for this clear explanation, Todd. I knew my pull was weak, but the body surfing on the first day of training really drove the point home. I have been working in my own practice on building awareness in the pulling muscles by doing simple isolation exercises. But, it is time to progress to adding load.
i learned the tune up exercise body surfing today and discovered (again) that my pull was obviously weaker than my push. i have incorporated band exercises from pilates into my daily practice to work pulling. variety in movement is the best medicine!
On dit souvent que le yoga est ”complémentaire” aux autres activités – peu importe ce qu’elles sont! C’est comme une phrase ”passe-partout”. Mais quand le yoga est notre activité principale, quelles sont les disciplines parfaitement complémentaires à celui-ci? Cet article, tout comme le YTT level 1, m’a ouvert les yeux sur le fait que j’ai grandement besoin de trouver un sport cardio, plus musculaire et qui implique beaucoup d’exercices de ”pulling”. Je suis ouverte aux suggestions!
Thank you Todd for this wise advice and a great reminder! I used to do pull ups every time I was going to the park with my kids, and have just realized it’s been a while (they grew and are now going to the park mostly with their friends) and as I think of it I am doing a lot of push in my yoga practice…and not so much pulling anymore…I’ll have to start going to the park again!! I’ll also think of adding more pulls to my classes to create a better balance ; ) thanks for sharing!
Many massage clients of mine have chronic pain in the posterior regions of their back, neck and shoulders. Now instead of only telling them to stretch the front of the body, I’ll also give strengthening exercices so their muscle balance becomes long lasting.
I seem to have recurring injuries in my left shoulder and I know it’s b/c I don’t have enough pull exercises in my fitness routine. I try to educate my yoga group that the end point of chaturanga is NOT the focus. Instead, taking the knees to the floor and setting the shoulders is all I ask – just holding that pose helps to strengthen the right areas. If and when they are able to set the shoulders properly (and eventually build up strength), we can talk about baby pushups. Why is everyone is so obsessed with end point in chaturanga? It makes me crazy.
I find it interesting that in our yogic quest to find balance we do focus on the push without really looking at the pull. I’m also shocked to think that many of the “go to” poses in yoga may be counterintuitive to the computer/texting students (which is almost everyone now a days).
I am one of those yogi’s who stopped lifting weights because it “inhibited my yoga” boy was I wrong… that combined with my desk job really set me on the right path to overstretched and very weak rhomboids and a lower trapezius that is nearly impossible to activate. Body surfing at the wall is where I am starting 🙂 Great post.
This highlights such an important point. I have have rock climbed for years and chutturanga’d’ for even longer. I have been injury free in my practice- with the exception of the odd little tweak and I know it is because my equal pushing and pulling. It is such a great activity to compliment your yoga practice and vice verse. Use every muscle in your body as it was meant to be used!
Before yoga, my main form of exercise was strength training. Even with more pull options in the gym, I found myself (unconsciously) overdoing the push exercises – bench press, push ups, dips – to get all those ‘mirror’ muscles. Coupled with working at a desk, my shoulders become clearly imbalanced, and one day I was doing shoulder presses and my shoulders just said ‘no way.’ I later found I had a shoulder impingement, and since then it’s been a blessing in disguise since it placed me on the path of more conscious training, both in the gym and the yoga studio. Baby cobra, “W’s”, and “Pin the arms on the yogi” are now part of my regular upper body exercise regime which has helped immensely. Rolling out the trigger points around my scapula at first, and then rolling into the pecs have also been instrumental in re-balancing my shoulders. Still more work to do, but it’s WAY better and empowering to know I can figure out how to heal myself!
I started including some “pull” exercises when I noticed how so much of what we do is pushing. However, I don’t think I have paid enough attention to external vs internal rotation. I’d love to see a few some specific exercises mentioned here. Thanks for this important article.
Thanks for the information, Todd. You touched on this in our level 1 YTU. It is so true when you think of it, that we do very little pull in most yoga classes. There is an overemphasis of lengthening the posterior chain and asanas and movements that push. You are helping me to rethink this as a teacher.
You are very wise to incorporate a balance into teaching at your yoga classes. I have a PT background and we thrive on balancing out the body with being aware of that in every function we are trying to improve. I think people get stuck in their “drug of choice” -crossfit, bicycling, lifting, karate, skiing, yoga, whatever and forget to balance. We must not forget. Thanks for the details.
After my very first yoga tune up class in training with Jill Miller I was thinking about which “moves” were really intriguing, and why. The body surfing was one of my favorites, because it used an area of musculature not felt other ways. now i know why, so thank you! it makes so much sense, too much pushing, i had never even thought of that with my yoga practice. And how often do we even teach Archer? rarely, but I’m going to now, and tell my students WHY!
Je me reconnais dans ce texte. Merci de me rappeler de toujours faire l’équilibre, oui c’est vrai pour les épaules mais dans toute les sphères de la vie.
Totally right, and thanks for sharing that again in class this week.
I used to think that yoga was all I needed, without even realizing that sometime I was putting my practise into a box. I would set my routine with posture that I really liked only and that I was ”good” at.
Lately I’ve been coming to my senses, understanding that yoga is not only asana: it’s what you make it. Thankfully I bumped into YTU at about the same time. Looking forward to upgrade my practise and also my teaching with the new tools that i have.
Thanks for sharing this article! It really speaks to something I noticed when diversifying my workout from yoga and cycling, to TRX where I was pulling body weight and noticing I did not have the same strength as do in pushing from years of Yoga pose focusing on the push, and everyday life habits (like texting or computer work) which have left my inner shoulder muscles locked short. I think a great combination is integrating pull strengthening exercises like Body surfing – I’ve been using sliders to help with this at home – with yoga tune up balls.
After reading this I realize I have been building in balance into all my classes I will endeavor to add some pull into my routines. I have noticed in my own practice and exercise that 2 to 3 chin ups or pull ups is my limit. I definitely need more pull work.
Great article. Forever looking for balance.
I too thought my yoga practice was all that I needed, but I know realize I need more robust, comprehensive and diverse movement practices to have a body that feels and functions awesome. Yoga Tune Up has shined the spot light on so many blind spots in my body that, when I think about it, my repetitious yoga practice (and daily habits) have created.I recently learned the Body Surfing pose and it was an epiphany!
Up until a few days ago, I thought that my personal yoga practice was fairly well-rounded and balanced. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s actually not complete or balanced. I’ve focused a lot on flexibility (perhaps to my detriment) and my strengthening practice, I now understand, is ALL push. And I know others who are in the same situation. Thank you for shining a spotlight on this aspect that tends to be omitted from most yoga practices.
Thanks for sharing this blog topic Todd. I see lots of clients and students who text and are on the computer. Their protracted scapula, rounded shoulders, forward head (i.e., lower cervical flexion and upper cervical extension) can lead to issues not only in the upper neck, but down the posterior chain. Working with these individuals to perform self-myofascial release and mobility work for the “locked short” myofascia and then perform stability/strength work for the myofscia “locked long.” can help to work toward a “balanced” body.
I totally am on board with you that “yoga” teachers need to incorporate more ways to inform their students to participate in pulling movements. Ah, it would be great to have pull up bars and/or TRX straps in our yoga studios. Thanks for a great blog!
I am guessing rowing falls into the category of pulling activities, though its not strictly targeting the shoulders (upper back, core, thighs all provide power in the stroke). This article brings out the more general point that strictly relying on yoga to keep your body balanced may not work, especially if the style of yoga leans too far to push poses, or as another example, to poses of ‘surrender’ which are stretches rather than postures (focusing only on increasing flexibility and not strengthening and stability). Its important to be a wise, observant, and aware participant.
In my massage practice I encounter anteriorly rotated shoulders daily! By putting small bolsters under the shoulder joint clients have instantly felt relief from the over stretch of their upper back and neck due to their rolled forward shoulders. I hope to encourage them with more pull and less push in their homecare thanks to your post. Thanks!
Great article. As a person who was once a teenage boy growing up in the “how much ya bench?” culture, I know I had way more pushing than pulling. Pulling is necessary for everyone to do, as a strong back pays major dividends. II I remember correctly most of the major strength and conditioning programs include a 2:1 pull to push ratio.
I have to say…after having two babies and getting busy with being a studio owner, life doesn’t actually stop, EVER! My practice suffered as well as so many other things that made me ,me before being a mother. I speak of this because being physically fit fell to the waist side (literally) and holding babies for a few years really worked my internal rotators and just the whole anterior body and (back body :
Working the pull muscles really speaks to me in my first step to start building strength for my shoulders and balance my spine!
Yes, Katy Bowman would concur with you about the physical nutritiousness of pulling and suggest several approaches in her Move Your DNA!
Wow Todd, Thank you for this offering. I have been trying to add pushups to my daily routine to beef up my upperbody strength, but have been not so happy in the shoulders for these very reasons. I can’t wait to find a pull up bar and get myself in gear. Super grateful for this sharing! Cheers!
Great advice! I never made the connection of creating balanced push and pull movements in my practice before. I’ve started to try…and yes, lacking in this area! It has made me feel more complete in care and my shoulder strength. Thanks
Wow I think I have the inflammation you describe in the shoulder joint!! I am interested in adding in some pulling into my life now. 🙂
Yoga tune up provides a lot of different exercises as prep for bettering external rotation of the humerus. Dancing with myself offers an opportunity to challenge ROM in both internal and external rotation. I appreciate that a forward fold based practice isn’t always beneficial to the masses attending. Balance!
Trying to get more hang time in life is so helpful for the shoulders. This article made me think of how to create more creative and easy ways to get a pulling movement action more often in life as well as incorporate more external rotation of the shoulders. One way would be to hang from a bathroom stall. Sounds weird and maybe gross. But maybe with some hand sanitizer it would be ok?
indeed! there are so many ways to focus on strengthening the upper back muscles in yoga class. it’s all about how you cue the pose, and where the focus lies in it. I have been known to do this in twists, by changing the hand position in a pose, using the wall as a prop, shoulder shrugs, etc. get creative in the way you work a pose, it’s just a tool after all. great topic!
I have felt the pain of imbalance from this exact situation not enough pulling motion and too many unfocused chatturangas. The last six months i have spent dedicated to coming to proper form each and every time I go thought the vinyasa. Adding some rowing and pulling exercise has also really help balance me out. Thanks for the great article.
For the past year or so, I’ve been trying to increase the amount of pulling and hanging that I do. After practicing yoga for over half of my life, and partner acro for the past 3 years, I’ve become very strong when pushing. Doing a pull-up is quite humbling. I can barely eke out 3 before I feel like my arms are about to fall off. My goals for the next year are to be able to do 10 in a row, and work on front lever and flag. Anything is possible!
Absolutely – it’s all about the balance. I use the “pull” motion as an example of how the shoulders can stop functioning properly: we pull open a door by flexing the elbow and let the shoulders totally off the hook. We definitely need to add that action. My favorite is the inverted row. Thanks for bringing attention to this!
THanks for all these comments as they are super helpful. More exercises for my numb external rotators on my left shoulder. I swim 60 minutes 5 days a week… but now I need to concentrate more on the pull… which I admit I totally slack off there!
Next the matador circles! and the body surfing… on a blanket for the closed circuit which always helps me feel what I need to turn on more effectively and standing body surfing. I would add raising the chalice… and block head… not as obviously “pulling” but looking for those external rotators.
The lack of pulling movement in yoga is a huge imbalance – thank you for pointing this out. This week I was thrilled to learn body surfing on the floor and standing poses to activate those latissimus dorsi and teres major muscles. Too much of one thing seems to be a recipe for injury; too much pushing without any pulling sets yogis up for a significant imbalance. As one comment noted, this is yet another reason CrossFit and Yoga are a wonderful yin-yang combination, and YTU helps us perform better in both worlds! Thanks
This is why Yoga and CrossFit blend so well. For all those reading, come try CrossFit and do some deadlifts, pull-ups, ring rows, cleans, snatches, kettlebell swings, etc…
Wow! I’d never really stopped to think about the fact that there really are not many pulling motion asanas in ‘traditional’ flow practice. I have the same questions as Garret asked. Are Goddess like poses where the rhomboids and / or middle traps are being turned on enough or should we be adding more and telling our students to add more?
Todd, I read this article a year ago and it changed my practice forever. I too made the mistake of thinking yoga was a complete practice, but now I know better. I’m curious if you think the more active cactus arms variation we see in some standing poses, and the body surfing found in tune up practice are enough to correct this imbalance, or is it a necessity to get some weighted movements to fully strengthen your pull pattern?
This is a great point you bring up Todd. Having taken a few traditional yoga classes I personally noticed quite quickly that doing this type of activity and it alone would cause imbalances. In the lifting world it is very common for most people as well to over press and under pull. A common fix is to double your pulling versus pressing volume. Unfortunately as you state with only your body and no outside apparatus (be it a tree or a rock to climb or a pullup bar) there are very few pulling motions possible solely with the body.
A great fix that can be done anywhere is using a resistance band and doing band pull aparts. It’s quick and easy and you can do it at home or at the office. An awesome band pull apart series that will help your posture as well as keep your shoulders and back balanced out with all that pressing can be found here:
Thanks for this Todd, I read this article when you first published it, and the awareness it created around my own shoulder issues drastically changed my practice! I too was fooled into thinking yoga was a complete practice. I’m wondering if you ever employ the cactus arms variations in warrior 1, and other standing poses? Is this sufficient resistance for a yogi whole does not want to go to a gym, or are weighted exercises a necessity when attempting to balance out the powerful pec major muscles?
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This is a great post Todd. I had this pointed out to my by trainers a number of times and it made me open my eyes and add other forms of variety to my fitness routines. It didn’t mean losing my passion for yoga, but just adding in other exercises to round out my practice. Another good exercise I can recommend is rows/rowing, using weight cables or a rowing machine. It’s important for people to realize that a healthy practice requires such diversity!
Interesting, As I am sitting here reading this I started pushing on deltoid and yes its inflamed, then externally rotating and feeling the pull through infraspinatus and realizing that that I don’t have enough pull, which is why I cannot do handstands, and they are not right for my body, but also that we as yogi’s focus mostly on anterior deltoid which is why so many of our teachers have rounded shoulders (internally rotated)
Also, I had been practicing aerial work and he taught me when I went into handstand to live Levator scapulae and trapezius, now I feel I have chronic congestion in my occipital points. YIKES!! Great article!
Thank you for this post Todd. I’m in YTUT now with a shoulder injury and am all ears about the factors of imbalance that may have contributed. My husband says he overcame a shoulder issue by injecting more pull into his swimming. Jill’s also mentioned that we should all be able to do pushups which even were my shoulder whole right now, I couldn’t do. So once I’ve got a diagnosis and work through my limitations, I’m determined to see push-pull balance in my practice and exercise activities. (Can’t wait to get to matador arm circles!)
I never thought of this before but it’s another great reason for me to join the kids climbing trees and playing on the monkey bars! Not really a hardship. It also makes me curious about other ways the practice is not necessarily complete. A reminder to always question blanket statements and generalities.
Yes! Pulling- a focus I put into my asana and other fitness classes. We need to connect with what’s going on in the back body. We don’t realize until we do something like Matador and our eyeballs are about to fall out of our heads.
I could definitely use more pull. Maybe it’s time to unpack that TRX kit gathering dust under the futon. I also just got a groupon for trapeze classes – tons of pulls await me there. Thanks for this important advice.
Great blog and discussion. As a career bodyworker, I find myself in desperate need of pulling movements and strengthening my “pulling muscles.” I love bodysurfing in YTU.
This whole topic was definitely one of my blind spots and has now really got me thinking about balancing push and pull poses. Several people have commented on Bodysurfing and matador circles as effective Tune Up poses to help with this balance. I now know where my tendon of subscapularis is and I feel exactly what you describe there as being inflammation Todd. Time to do some more work with the Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls!
This is an excellent blog post and a discussion that should be all over yoga journal and other yogi/movement blogs.
Why can’t I find full flexion in my shoulders? Could it be years of pushing (chatarunga shoulders)?
I started assisted pull ups a few months ago and am slowly starting to see improvements in both my strength and mobility.
As an arm balance loving yogini, I have found my practice feeling a lot stronger since cross training at the gym but up until recently I’ve been having trouble with what “pull” asanas to bring into my yoga practice. I’m excited to have some new YTU “pull” movements to incorporate into my classes— Bodysurfing and Matador Circles (elbows up!) will be hits I know.
I completely agree Todd – adding pull ups to their daily routine will translate into ones yoga practice -learning how to engage the “pull muscles” is so critical for practice – I know this firsthand as I’ve seen a change in my practice since incorporating pull-ups (and muscle up progressions)
I love this post. I have been noticing that in the past week my rear deltoids in particular have been getting a lot of work. I have been aware for quite a while that my anterior deltoids and triceps are over developed compared to my posterior deltoids and traps. I am actually able to see a visible difference in my right arm, which is amazing. I am wondering if the “pulling the mat apart” move (which I cannot seem to find in my handbook, but maybe I am just inept) would qualify as a good pulling balancer. I realize that it is not against gravity, but I think that that is what got my rear delts working so hard yesterday. Any thoughts?
The Yoga Tune Up dynamic BodySurfing pose is a great one to activate the pull muscles – super accessible for everyone and only need a blanket as a prop. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was!
The concepts of push/pull and locked short/locked long muscles are new for me. I’ve learned from your description that the push muscles are the anterior shoulders/chest and pull are the posterior shoulders/upper back. Thanks, i will add more pull strengthening and more push opening to my practice and to my students. Body surfing would be a great one too!
Thanks for this article as I am definitely a yogini in need of strengthening the trapezius, infraspinatous, and rhomboids. As well, I also need to stretch and lengthen my shortened pectoralis major and minor in the front body… I couldn’t agree more that one needs to incorporate more balancing poses involving asanas or modifications of yoga poses to help strengthen these often lengthened muscles of the shoulder.
Fantastic post Todd. This is something that I’ve not ever considered. I often use my yoga practice to improve my mobility while using my time in the gym to improve my strength – but as my yoga practice has developed, I have begun to improve other types of strength such as static holds and muscle endurance, presenting the need for a well balanced practice. Thank you for the insight!
Thank you for the clear directions on finding the subscapularis tendon.I think this is enormously useful for regular chaturanga practitioners, as I am. I hadn’t even noticed mine was tender until my fingers “jumped” over the tendon. I’ll be rolling on my YTU balls there very shortly. I love the idea of considering a complementary action for the shoulders – the “pull”. Much of YTU is built on balancing the body by strengthening and stretching our muscles and now that I’ve read this article, it seems so obvious. I appreciate having my attention drawn to this concept. Thank you. Now ….. for a chaturanga an downdog-free vinyasa class … interesting!
Great post Todd,
I recently finished a shoulders immersion course with Jill and never realized that because of the length of my arm bones I should not be doing forearm headstand, because of the angle of my cervical spine to thoracic spine in neck flexion I should not be doing shoulderdstand or plow. Others in my group should not be doing downdog or even thing about doing a chaturanga. My good friend was so compelled by all this and the next day taught a chaturanga and downdog-less vinyasa flow class. It was well-accepted by most of the students and now I’d like to do the same 🙂
What I’ve discovered through Yoga Tune Up are the imbalances in my body. I thought I had a strong yoga practice (and in many ways I did), but I was constantly surprised by an ongoing hip soreness. Turns out I wasn’t working my abductors enough. I like this article because now it’s got me thinking about upper-body imbalances since I have had very little “pulling” in my practice — pullups it is, thank you!
I am so into this article. I recently learned about how to correctly externally rotate my arms stand up taller and it feels like a revolution. You are so right, we push push push out those vinyasa’s over and over again, pump out arm balances and handstands and internally rotate our way though backbends and forward folds-where is the pull? In a forward thinking world of texting, computerizing and mental anxiety, where is our power going? We certainly are not pulling it back towards ourselves. Thank you for the wise words and I look forward to getting my rock climbing shoes on and hitting those boulders. I want this spine to be tubularized and growing tall for the rest of our lives.
thank you so much for your article. It has been so long since I have been in a class where we practiced archer that I completely forgot about that pose. I have never had problems beyond general tightness in my shoulders but recently heard a friend, slightly older, say that, as we age rotator cuff problems are inevitable because of regular wear and tear. I don’t agree at all. You are so right that we need to balance all movement – out bodies ask for it one way or another. Swimming, particularly breast stroke and side stroke are excellent maintenance and rehab for shoulder stuff. Also strength building thru a FULL RANGE of motion. There is a lot of emphasis on yoga and other physical discipline on “back and down” for the shoulders. I love being upside down and gentle exploring a fuller ROM in hand stand and where possible hanging from a bar (at the play ground with my kids). yum.
I couldn’t agree more! There isn’t enough pulling in a yoga practice which leads to imbalance if you area serious practitioner.
Purvottanasana could help if you as many as you do chaturangas.
But the best is pull ups. I’m alway looking to hang from a bar, a door frame, a rope… which also helps me traction my spine since I have a scoliosis.
Great topic from Todd. I must admit I never considered this now obvious imbalance of push – pull presented onto a body during a typical flow class. There’s a whole lotta push going on and very little pull. How did I not see?
And amidst all the pushing, fatigue settles in, stamina and strength is fading, the body is losing control over movement & stability of the joints and muscles, compromising our push even further. I know now what and why I need to add to my routine. Thanks Todd!
Nice article, Todd. This resonates with me since my foundational practice at the moment is Ashtanga … I love the practice, but it is an awful lot of ‘pushing’ as you say, and only intensifies as you move through the multiple series. There are sequences to counteract, balance and integrate the various muscle groups of the body but the bottom line is that it is a ‘power’ practice. I work hard to protect my shoulders when I practice (and beyond) but there’s always a tightness in that anterior deltoid area, particularly on the right side, and I’ve been trying to undo it for years. Now I’m going to try a little pulling. Thank you!
For many years I had what I considered a strong practice. I could do most of the complicated are balances and inversions. But there where limitations and after awhile I got bored and a little injured.
About 4 years ago I sought out alternative movement forms to strengthen and heal my aching body. When I began my new routine, doing pull-ups was a must. When I started I couldn’t do any. It took me an entire year of diligent practice but I finally got a pull-up! I can now do many.
Interestingly, I have recently revisited some of the arm balances that I used to do. I can still do them but now the few I never quite perfected are easy, easy, easy! Thank you pull-ups!
Never noticed before there are not many pull asana’s in yoga. Hmmm…. thank you to waking me up and showing me a new Yoga blind spot. That’s why I love Yoga Tune Up! Another great Yoga Tune Up pose is the not so girly push ups activating seratus anterior by pushing hand into the earth but then the pull of the arms towards the feet, igniting serratus anterior. It reminds me of the lever pulls we use to do in conditioning at gymnastics on bars.
Chaturanga dandasana is so hard and I have just begun to learn how to do it the correct way. I am not going as deep in my push up position because I am not that strong yet. I am a flexible female. But this is interesting that you suggest swimming, pull ups and climbing to add to help with our shoulders and posture. I guess going to the gym is not so bad after all; as long as you are doing the right thing.
Thanks so much for this article! It’s great for shedding light on the push focus of most asana practices, which when combined with our chronically internally rotated shoulders can certainly spell trouble as you’ve described. When teaching Yoga Tune Up I find that the poses Bodysurfing and Matador Arm Circles often cause the most grimaces and the most confusion as people navigate the blind spots in their external rotators and in their “pull”. All the more reason to do them!
Yes, exactly, “some types of yoga are complete”! Practitioners of yoga may underuse muscles and tissues due to repetitive practice of the same moves & postures. This is how I first came to the YogaTune UP® program. Through Parasvarita Lunges, Happy Baby Mini-Vini, and many other exercises in this program, a pulling movement is incorporated. Being mindful of “pulling in” using the Adductors when in Triangle, for example, is something that can be a huge awareness for beginners.
I forgot to mention that the Body Surfing can be done standing worse comes to worse. To further challenge the pupils, you can remind them about simple things like the breathing (perhaps adding an intentional pranayama) and to find poise as so their xyphoid process doesn’t stick out. That alone can be a “thinker”.
A very good pull exercise that is so efficient if done properly is Body Surfing. The only downfall is that you need to have a woollen blanket and a hardwood floor. It’s too bad the studio at work doesn’t have a “slippery floor” because I would get all my clients to do this. I find it is so hard to get them to understand how to isolate the latissimus dorsi by retracting the shoulder blades and depressing the shoulders and *holding* those contractions while doing the pull down motion of the exercise. I would say with my experience that this is the most common mistake done on any kind of pull down machine in the gym and it only cheats the exercice and members are completely missing the target…
Thanks Todd. As usual, your thoughts are proceeded by careful observation and considered thought.
While there are several YTU poses that involve pulling action, I find that matador circles is likely my favourite. Not only are the posterior fibers of the deltoid are actively agonisticly involved, keeping the elbows up (emphasizing the abduction) also really work the medial fibers as well as the supraspinatus. I also find the abduction of Raise the Chalice and Holy Cow at the trough also can be helpful here.
For the less active “yogini” practitioners, walking with the hands clasped behind the back and pulling the hands toward the tailbone can assist in the agonist action of the rhomboids and the antagonist effect of the pectorals, while improving posture.
And it feels good!
Thank you for this article and bringing to light that there is a lack of pull in the practice. I’m currently in yoga teacher training and I feel as though I haven’t been doing anything the correct way for most of my yoga practice, up until we started to break down the posses in classes! I finally am doing Chaturanga correctly and I notice all of the correct muscles are working to get me there, and they are sore! In regards to the pull action, does eccentrically lowering ourselves down against gravity act at all like a “pull”, or is it a completely separate action we need to find elsewhere? (non pool or climbing if that’s not available?)
When i started doing yoga I noticed my arm muscles were getting defined but the rest of me not so much. It wasn’t until recently that I realized it was because i was overcompensating with my upper body strength instead of using my core and leg muscles to get into poses. Now I am more conscious of rotating my inner thighs and pulling from there to ground myself or maintain my posture instead of using my arms and shoulder muscles. Hopefully continuing to do this will help strengthen my legs and core.
You make an interesting point. I’m suggesting climbing because of the primary activation of the latissimus dorsi, rear delt, rhomboids and biceps, in particular. Chaturanga only uses the lats only as a stabilizing muscle, it is not a primary mover in the pose and is therefore not going to be fully developed by the movement. Chaturanga’s main movers are the pecs, the front and medial delts and the triceps in particular. These activities are complimentary for this reason. They do not develop the same muscles. They use the same muscles, but the prime movers of these activities are antagonistic. One’s primarily a sequence of pulls, the other is a push exercise… these are very different shoulder activities. In my mind, it’s like saying push ups and pull ups use the same muscles.
Kyphosis in the climbing gym is an interesting observation though that I’m still thinking about. I wonder if the observation is of over development of the upper back rather than tightness in the chest. I’ve also noticed a number of climbers who have huge infraspinatus, rhomboids and traps in particular, which makes their upper backs appear rounder. When I see these yogis in class, I often have to put a rolled up mat or block under their head to support their necks in savasana. But, for these yogis, I don’t feel that their chest is necessarily locked short, more that the size of their upper backs muscles need to be compensated for… but that may be a separate issue from the one you’ve observed.
Other possibilities exist for the kyphosis. I wonder, too, what the climbers are doing as cross training. Do they spend time stretching? Are many of the climbers are also cyclists? So many interesting variables…
I’m confused why climbing would be a good counterbalancing activity for excess chaturanga/push activity. Climbing uses much of the same muscles-lats, anterior deltoids, triceps, pec major…
I would think that climbing contributes to more overuse, instead of counterbalancing.
I see a lot of examples of kyphosis in the climbing gym. You would think that heart opening asanas like salabasana and goddess pose and several other asanas that call for external rotation of the shoulder would be a better choice to counter.
Pull focus postures are often neglected because they need external props, more often then not. Pull up bars, straps and weights are what initially come to mind. Many yoga classes like all of the action in class to stay on the student’s yoga mat… severely limiting our choices in creating pull focused movements.
I do think swimming provides some pull action. I especially like swimming because the body contorts differently with load then on land. The muscle activation can be pretty novel for bodies that don’t do alot of swimming. Swimming can help a body develop pull muscle adaptation and development.
Can swimming provide enough counteracting pull for chaturanga?
Certainly the external rotators and the latissimus dorsi get alot of activation from swimming, making it a good choice for its balancing effects. I do think, though, that eventually if the body can push its own weight with gravity that it needs to be able to pull its own weight as well.
Rowing would be another activity that would be great for building balance in the shoulder.
I wonder why there are so few pull focused postures. The above comment about swimming sounds interesting.
What are your thoughts on swimming as a counter activity to yoga?
Interesting thoughts about what makes a complete practise. Swimming might be good for adding some pull.