The Yoga Tune Up® solutions for strengthening shoulder external rotation are brilliant, self-contained solutions. I say self-contained since they don’t need any equipment.
The first pose, one of my all-time favorite Yoga Tune Up® poses is Pin the Arms on the Yogi. It is brilliant in its simplicity and its effectiveness! To get into the pose, you begin by externally rotating the arms and adducting them. You want to make sure that you do not protract the shoulder blades or puff out the chest. To solidify the position of the shoulder blades both the rhomboids and the serratus anterior muscles will be active, which is perfect since some of the issues that come out of improper chaturanga come from not knowing how to stabilize and keep the shoulders protracted. Also, this posture activates and strengthens the external rotators infraspinatus and terres major. It will also require the activation of the lower trapezius muscles. Posturally, the relative strength of these muscles is integral to proper alignment, especially if the shoulders are forced to repeatedly strengthen internal rotation.
The second pose is Open Sesame. This one is often practiced on the floor for best results but, in a pinch, can also be done against a wall. This posture primarily targets the lengthening of the pec muscles, the anterior portion of the deltoid. To Open Sesame, the arm is abducted to a right angle to the body and pressed into the floor, palm down. Keeping the arm there, you then roll onto your side, let’s say the left side for this example, and step your right foot back and over the left leg bringing the sole of the foot to the ground. The right foot may also come flat on the ground, as well. The left arm then falls back as if it was going to land on the right arm, and this passively stretches the left pectoralis muscles. This posture will help to bring length back into the chest muscles and front shoulders if tightness and range of motion become constricted.
Ultimately, chaturanga is a great movement, but it is no more sacred then any other movement. It is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but for every decision we make in our practice we must understand the consequences. If a posture is strengthening, where is it strengthening? Is this strength going to improve my posture? If not, are there other counter poses I should include in my practice? Do I need more of this strength? If so, do I also need more antagonistic strength to maintain proper shoulder alignment? I do believe that we can find balance and have a positive relationship with chaturanga dandasana, but I believe that that relationship is more complicated then just being able to do it with proper alignment and intention.
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