Yoga is a practice that can heal us or hurt us ( as my teacher used to say). I agree 100%, and have experienced many injuries throughout my life as a dancer and yogi. For the last several years ( knock on wood) my body has been clear of injury and feeling free. That said, those many injuries were important teachers for me that invited me to understand my anatomy and patterns more deeply. And, as I age, my body certainly isn’t what it used to be. Finding a balance between efforting in my physical body and connecting to a more subtle source has really helped me chill out and gain a more sustainable practice. Our Yoga Sadhana ( Spiritual Practice) is always inviting us into deeper recognition and exploration. I would like to offer some tips to bring with you as you deepen your asana.
Teaching Yoga and teaching trainings for 10-15 years now has shown me the imperative importance of not only the outer alignment of muscles but the relationship of bones, muscles, and subtle body. If the outer muscular alignment is “good” yet the bone stacking, breath/ vayus ( winds) are weak, injury can still persist. So, what I have found to bring greatest healing for myself and my students is an integration of outer and inner bodies.
As we move through Fall, I will write more on the Subtle Body, but for now, let us start with some basic alignment tips for bones and muscles to keep those shoulders and wrists safe while practicing asana and moving through your active lifestyles.
Some Tips to keep YOUR SHOULDERS, WRISTS AND ELBOW JOINTS SAFE: In Down Dog, Plank, Chattarunga, Cobra/ Up Dog
- Place the Foundation w clarity, spreading the fingers ( yet not TOO much) with equal weight through the palette of the hands and metacarpals.
- Keep the shoulder girdle more forward than you think, keeping pressure out of the rotator cuff and wrists.
- Watch out for hyper extension – soften the elbow joint and be sure the bicep and tricep are firing equally.
- Notice if the top of the arm bone pushes forward- this will put pressure on the shoulders and wrists. Keep the humerus ( upper arm bone gently back)
- Keep the breath FULL like a “balloon” and relax the outer body muscular body more.
- Keep the Upper Arms not only lifted in Down Dog to fire up the shoulder girdle but find a proper rotation into the gleno-humeral ( shoulder socket), so you feel integrated and less pressure in the armpit area. You will know you are in better alignment when you see a “cup” in the armpit.
Photo credit: James Fideler
BIG TIP: KEEP THE WEIGHT INTO THE RADIUS ( major forearm bone) IN COBRA AND UP DOG STRENGTHENING THE UNDER SIDE OF THE FOREARMS. THIS WILL HELP YOUR WRISTS AND HELP YOU TO FLY INTO CROW AND HANDSTANDS! The underside of the forearm is often weak, leading to “buckling” of the shoulders, too much weight in the wrists, and collapsed shoulder rotator cuff.
All that said, each human body is different. As a teacher I am always looking at each body as it’s own entity. Anatomical principles are great but we must apply them to our own individual make up. You may ask yourselves and your students to feel for themselves: Do they feel stable? Can they breathe? Is it easier in the wrists, elbows and joints? Encourage self exploration and personal experience. This is the true power of yoga- self reflection, self empowerment.
Tara’s primary passion and focus is being a teacher to teachers: Abhaya Yoga Teacher Training
“Her keen eye, attention to detail, and intuition about each person’s physical body is unmatched. To be honest, Yoga used to hurt me. I’d leave every time with a new pain that hadn’t been there when I first stepped into the class. With Tara, I always feel safe–physically and emotionally. My body has seen amazing changes in my time studying with her–I even grew an inch! Through her delicate and precise adjustments and awareness of anatomy, I have been able to heal my body in a way that I never thought possible. In class, a private session, or through her amazing teacher training I have learned so much that I bring into my own teaching.”