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Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: Make Right Angles to Strengthen Your Shoulders

Niek Sprakel's "calculating the height of a tetrahedron, using the Pythagorean theorem"

Niek Sprakel's "calculating the height of a tetrahedron, using the Pythagorean theorem"

Is there magic in right angles?
Pythagoras isn’t the only one who thought so. When you bring your arms into right angle position and draw your elbows back, you wake up serratus anterior, a muscle that connects your shoulder blades into your ribcage.
Once your serratus anterior is strong and intelligent, you’ll be able to access your shoulder blades to move your ribs, and to bring more stability to poses that call for upper body strength, such as Chaturanga Dandasana (the four-legged stick, or yoga pushup).

The "stick-em-up" pose gives access to your shoulder blades

The "stick-em-up" pose gives access to your shoulder blades

This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is to use the “stick-em-up” preparation at the wall to get in touch with and strengthen your serratus anterior, and your connection to your shoulder blades.

Stand with your back to the wall, heels about two inches away from the wall, feet hip distance apart. Bring your arms into a 90-degree angle between your upper arms and side ribs, and a 90-degree angle at your elbows.If you’re not sure of your form, try it in front of a mirror until you get a feel for it.
Stretch the backs of your hands  toward the wall. You’ll feel the bottom edges of your shoulder blades pressing into your back ribs. Don’t overdo: keep the sensation intense and yet pleasant.

Keep your face soft and your breath flowing

Keep your face soft and your breath flowing

Now, keeping the right angle at your elbows, slowly lower your upper arms towards your ribs.
You should feel a sensation of work on the front surface of your shoulder blade.
When your elbows reach  your side body, you will also feel the bottom fibres of your trapezius muscle, the ones connected to last few vertebrae in your ribcage, drawing down.
Stay in this position for a slow breath or two. Relax your face and eyes. Bring your arms back to 90/90.
Start with three repetitions. Make the movement slow and even. Stay aware of the sensations on the front surfaces of your shoulder blades. Continue to breathe. Gradually work up to five or 10 repetitions.

Benefits: Strong serratus anterior muscles are a key to correct alignment in many poses requiring “pushing” strength in the arms. When you also strengthen and draw down through the lower trapezius, you’ll be able to hold good posture, with your shoulders back and down, and your chest open.

Sequence: Fit this in whenever you have a spare minute and would like to bring yourself back to good posture. As a Five-Minute Yoga Challenge, work to your maximum on this every second day, and benefit from the 48-hour rule for building strength.
In a longer practice, do this preparation before sun salutations, and use your increased shoulder awareness to maintain good alignment throughout the cycle.

Ouch: Stiff shoulders and weak muscles can make this a challenging preparation. Be content with small, gradual improvements.
Make sure you check your form with a friend or a mirror.

Photo courtesy of Niek Sprakel, Flickr Creative Commons

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: Ease Your Shoulders in Gomukhasana

Stand Tall by Working Your Shoulder Stabilizers

Use a Long Strap to Put Your Shoulders in their Place

In other news: The long awaited Junior Intermediate I assessment weekend came and went.

I passed. I’m happy.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eve February 1, 2011, 9:55 am

    Victoria, thank you.
    Yes I am pleased and relieved. I’m feeling better about it all every day that it gets further back into the past.
    Interesting that you have different tender muscles. I have no idea why that might be. This is one of those times when I wish I could have been in two places at once – at home resting for the weekend’s ordeal and at the studio being a student in Corinne’s class.

  • Victoria Henderson January 24, 2011, 10:30 pm

    Hey, Eve, congratulations on passing your assessment! None of your students were in any doubt of your success, of course; but I’m sure you’re pleased and relieved to have it behind you.
    For us, it was interesting to have a different instructor, and I’m feeling tender muscles in unexpected places. Is that the result of a somewhat different focus, do you think; or just my body’s slow adjustment to renewed activity after a month of slacking?