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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