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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Todd Lavictoire

My approach to both my personal practice and my yoga classes has always been one that includes joyfulness and playfulness. Yoga Tune Up® has provided me with a modality to help yogis of all stripes: young and old, experienced and new to the practice, work through some of the tension stored in their tissue. As Jill says: "Helping them live better in their bodies."

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Sandy Ahlensdorf

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

Pete Shaw

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…

Christine Heroux

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?

Garrett

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?

Alex Booth

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… Read more »

Garrett Plumley

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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Jarett G

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!

Jennifer

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… Read more »

Jeannette Foley

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!)

Jackie

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.

Kristin

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.

Orla

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.

Stephanie

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.

Jane

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!

Jenn

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.

Meredith Brockriede

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.

Gillian Mandich

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)

Yiselle Blum

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… Read more »

Sophie Maranda

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!

Alison Lloyd-Nijjar

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!

Judy Swens

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.

Vincent Budac

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!

Kate Krumsiek

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… Read more »

vivian

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… Read more »

Lori Wieder

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!

Giancarla

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… Read more »

lorimerburns

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… Read more »

Celine Antoine

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.

sabina

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!

Andrea Borrero

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… Read more »

Elizabeth W.

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… Read more »

Sandy Byrne

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.

Kelsea

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.

brooke thomas

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!

silvia marisol

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.

Roxanne

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”.

Roxanne

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… Read more »

Murray Arnott

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.

Allison

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!

Jayme

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… Read more »

Samantha

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.

Todd Lavictoire

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… Read more »

Lily Lu

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.

Todd Lavictoire

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… Read more »

Jennifer Kuan

I wonder why there are so few pull focused postures. The above comment about swimming sounds interesting.

kate

What are your thoughts on swimming as a counter activity to yoga?

Sharon Stockla

Interesting thoughts about what makes a complete practise. Swimming might be good for adding some pull.

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