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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Julie Heacock

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.

Emilee

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… Read more »

Randy Williams

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… Read more »

Kathryn Featherstone

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

Pattie

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.

Adeline

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.

David

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!

Katrina LK

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).

Kim

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.

Chris N

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!

Jennifer M.

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… Read more »

Alison Quinn

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!

Kerri

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… Read more »