In part 3 of the anatomy section in Yoga Magazine, yoga teacher Gert van Leeuwen discusses movement chain 4: moving your arms while maintaining the connection between the arms and upper back.
If you want to (re)gain strength in your arms, you need to restore this connection between your arms and back. How do you do that? Van Leeuwen provides a step-by-step explanation.
Life is happening in front of us. We reach out to embrace it. Eager to reach our next goal, we round our backs and stretch out our arms, away from the upper back. When you lose the connection between your arms and back, you also lose strength in your upper arms. The Asana of the Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svansana) is a great posture to restore this connection at bone level and to revitalize proper structure.
In the Downward-Facing Dog pose, you use your arms to add pressure to your shoulder blades, which, in turn, add pressure to the ribs that are attached to your vertebrae. When doing this, you support the extension of your upper back from the sides. When you straighten your upper back, you reduce superficial tension in your arms and back. If done right, you can feel the tension flow down your arms and hands and into the floor. Your body uses the collaboration between your arms and shoulder blades as a natural brake to indicate how far you can go without overstretching. You can feel this brake when you’re in a posture in which your upper back is straight.
By lying on the strip that we use in Critical Alignment Yoga, we push back the upper back to its original straight form. Extend your arms straight up and feel how your back is bent against the strip. By lowering the humeral heads, they reconnect with the rotator cuffs. You can feel that your upper back is curved less and that your shoulder blades are relaxed. Now slowly move your arms over your head until you feel resistance or until your elbows want to bend. When that happens, stop and stretch your arms and do not continue. Your arms do not touch the floor. This is your natural brake, which ensures that you do not overstrain the muscles in your shoulders. The angle of your arms in relation to the floor indicates how crooked your upper back is. As your upper back becomes more straightened, you will notice that you can move your arms closer to the floor. If you keep paying attention to your natural brake, you can build up strength in your arms without losing the connection between your arms and back.
Are you interested in yoga and would you like to experience the benefits of yoga yourself? You can! Sign up for a trial class at Yoga Ommen and discover what yoga can do for you! The exercises are easy to learn and (with a bit of practice) can also be done at home.
Gert van Leeuwen is the founder of the Critical Alignment Yoga and Therapy Institute. Irene Vos was trained by this institute as a Critical Alignment Yoga teacher and a Critical Alignment Yoga therapist.