alignment, anatomy, downwardfacingdog, internallyrotatedshoulders, mobility, moksha, mokshayoga, mokshayogawestshore, pectoralismajor, properposture, shoulders, teachingyoga, yoga, yogaanatomy, yogaclasses, yogateachers, yogatuneup
Since Moksha Yoga Westshore has opened their doors, I have been reminded of my love for anatomy, movement and yoga. Not only that, I am reminded of how much I love to teach other people these things! As there is an influx of new students, I have been paying a lot of attention to people coming into postures for the very first time. One that is particular interesting is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Practically every style of yoga practices this posture (besides Bikram, most Yin styles, and I’m sure there are a few others out there).
BUT, should everyone be doing this posture? My answer is No. Definitely not…at least not always in the beginning of his or her yoga-journey. As the title of this article states, it could be a DOWNDOG disaster for some people’s bodies. While there are a number of things that could prevent your shoulders from being set into the proper position to take DownDog- a very common reason is a shortened Pectoralis Major muscle, which contributes to internally rotated shoulders.
What activities (or lack of activities) make you a candidate for having shortened pecs? Too many “push” exercises (punching, pushups, planks), sitting with improper posture at a computer, desk, in a car, spending all day at a sewing machine (!MOM!), sitting and texting, sleeping for 8 hours curled up in a little ball, if you are a rower, swimmer, or perhaps you have had your heart broken and your shoulders have slumped forward in an effort to protect the body; or you were bullied or lack confidence, so you walked around for years with your head down and shoulders rolled in, instead of walking with your chest forward and head held high…I could go on, but as you can see, there are many, MANY reasons why your shoulders may be internally rotated.
How to tell if you have internally rotated shoulders? Stand up, shake your arms out, let them fall to your sides naturally and see which direction your thumbs point. An ideal situation is to have your thumbs point forward in a natural standing position. Knuckles pointing forward (or ‘caveman arms’) is an indication of internally rotated shoulders.
Why does it matter if your shoulders are internally rotated? The shoulders are not a stable joint to begin with (they favour mobility over stability); however, the shoulders are MOST stable when they are externally rotated. This means that all of the structures surrounding the shoulders are in the proper place and the shoulder is working as efficiently as possible. Over time internally rotated shoulders can cause a whole host of injuries and pain in the body.
If your knuckles do point forward (from the exercise above), you may notice that you have troubles/restrictions when trying to reach your arms overhead. OR, you may be able to get your arms over your head, but the head of your humerus is smashing into the acromion or, to be more technical, “the greater tuberosity can “impinge” on the undersurface of the acromion, compressing the subacromial bursa and irritating the supraspinatus tendon” (http://www.dailybandha.com/2011/04/shoulder-kinematics-in-yoga.html), making things very uncomfortable (not to mention, not very sustainable over a long period of time).
The MMA fighter in the picture below is extremely fit looking, but as you can see, his shoulders are internally rotated, meaning they are not in an ideal position.
Now, what the heck does all of this have to do with your downward facing dog? Since your shoulder position is a very important piece of this posture, if you are heading into your downdog (or plank, or chaturanga for that matter) with internally rotated shoulders, you are creating a very unstable and unsustainable position that will more than likely cause injury over time.
Is your Pec Major the cause of all of this internal rotation? Maybe, maybe not. But it is definitely worth looking into if you practice yoga. Can Downward Facing Dog wreck your shoulders? If not practiced with proper alignment, there is a likelihood of shoulder issues that may develop.
Practice smart and you’ll be whipping out that downdog for years to come.
Peas, love …and stable shoulders.
As a bonus- check out the video below! Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune up, gives a very simple assessment tool that will allow you to identify a few other obstacles to your downward facing dog, as well as a different posture that may save your shoulders.