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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Jamilah

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.

Katrina

Excellent point that not only needs to be heard and taught in the fitness realm, but for yogis as well.

Trevor Gribble

Hi Todd, 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.… Read more »

Jasmine Ellemo

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… Read more »

Anastasia Polito

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!

Alyssa

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.

Jasmine Ellemo

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… Read more »

Sarah Atkinson

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

Isabelle Cote

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 ! 🙂

Jenni Everard

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.

Sophie

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).

Pascale hazledine

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.

Jayme

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!

Karen Bulmer

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.

KELLY

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!

Josiane O'Rourke

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!

Dandy

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!

François Gosselin

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.

Sholina

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… Read more »

Andrea

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).

Kayla Lee

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.

Anna

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!

John

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… Read more »

Lita Remsen

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.

Jill McCubbin-Clare

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.

Becky Battle

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.

Shari Williams

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!

Sebastien Noel

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.

Alfredo Figueroa

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.

Samara

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.

Bob

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.

Nancy Neuenhagen

Great article. Forever looking for balance.

Tracey Silverman

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!

Christiane Parcigneau

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.

Holly

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… Read more »

Shelley Lambert

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.

Erin

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!

Corey Wright

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.

Kerry Cruz

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!

Leslie

Yes, Katy Bowman would concur with you about the physical nutritiousness of pulling and suggest several approaches in her Move Your DNA!

Andrew Bathory

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!

Jen Wende

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

Amelia

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. 🙂

Linda

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!

Jenny

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?

Nicole

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!

Dustin Brown

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.

Emily

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!

Ann

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!

Denise

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.