The post conference with Tiffany Cruikshank focused on exploring the shoulder joint.
An initial invigorating practice lead us to explore the mobility, stability, limitations and challenges of our shoulders through diverse asanas and creative vinyasa sequences.
After a short break, Tiffany gave an overview of the different anatomical components of the shoulder joint which is actually composed of two joints: the AC (acromioclavicular) joint and the glenohumeral joint.
She mentioned that the shoulder joint has similarities with the hip joint because they both are synovial joints that allow freedom of motion because of their structure and are flexible given the mobility needs of the limbs. But she emphasized that the shoulder joint is much more mobile than the hip joint because the ball and socket joint is hardly “encased” and this also influences its “stability”. The joint layers of this joint, she said, are highly influenced by the muscles around it.
In the shoulder joint, we can talk about “passive stability” in charge of the inner layers of the joint such as: the bone itself, cartilage, capsule, ligament and bursa. And we can talk about “active stability” which is assured by the tendons and muscles that surround the previous layers.
She highlighted “the stabilization of this joint is extremely important to move with efficiency“, especially in yoga looking to create strength and stability in the body and not compromise the internal structure of the joint.
Tiffany mentioned that there are two components for stabilizing the shoulder joint with the action of the muscles that surround it:
1. stabilize the humeral head: action of the rotator cuff (muscles: sucscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor)
2. stabilize the scapula: activating the serratus anterior and the rhomboids
The stabilization of the scapula is the foundation
She highlighted that these muscles should work as a community to guarantee the health of the joint or to restore its function. But she emhasized that “it doesn´t matter how good you are using your rotator cuff, the scapula stabilization is the foundation”. If the scapula is not stabilized, the rotator cuff will be working too hard, resulting in an injury or a muscle fatigue.
We later practiced partner exercises to detect the activation of the serratus, pushing the floor, rounding the upper back and bringing the shoulder blades together and apart, she calls this actions: serratus push ups. She recommends doing these twice a day for 2 sets of 10 each.
A whole new chaturanga
The emphasis to become aware of our shoulder joints and muscles in chaturanga is due to the great amount of repetitions that Vinyasa Yoga brings every time into a practice. Several types of injuries such as biceps tendinitis, tearing of the tendons or impingement can be avoided if we keep the humeral head in it´s place and the scapula stabilized as we move through chaturanga.
Tiffany talked about 4 steps in the muscles to stabilize the shoulder and recreate muscle function to avoid injuries:
1. subscapularis: hug down and into the joint
2. serratus anterior: push the hands forward or into the floor, separate the shoulder blades rounding the upper back
3. front of the shoulder: magnetize hands into the mid-line without actually moving them
4. back of the shoulder: smile the clavicles or broaden your collarbones
and of course! remind your trapeziums to relax, as they are always ready to take over even though sometimes it´s not their job!
As we prepare for chaturanga, we should keep these actions as move forward to the tips of the toes and lower down until we feel we are strong enough to maintain the stability in the scapula. We should explore what is our personal threshold for not losing strength in the muscles and lower just before this, to work with consciousness and efficiency. You can even use your knees if you feel you need to re-train the way the muscles are working.
Tiffany recommended: “paying attention in Chaturanga is a great way to begin to work with these muscles and recognize habitual patterns”.
As you can see, a whole lot of information was transmitted and shared in this magnificent immersion! I hope Tiffany joins the Barcelona Yoga Conference again next year to continue indulging us with her knowledge and understanding of using Yoga as a tool to optimize body function: Yoga as Medicine.