Summer 2018 Shoulders

Most of us have days when we feel the tension gather in our shoulders. It’s a very normal reaction that, unfortunately, never really switches off in our current culture, unless we actively do something to release it. The practices from this week do just that. Keep in mind that the shoulder is a shallow ball and socket joint, hence be very mindful and careful when increasing your range of motion here, so that you do not overdo things and cause injury.

Constructive rest, arm under lower back: Slide the lower arm under the back until your fingers are peeking out on the other side of the torso. Use your breath to create space at the shoulder socket and upper arm. Press the arm out and down gently with the exhale, relax on the inhale. Keep the lower back relaxed. Imagine the shoulder blade flattening against the back. Remain here ~5+ minutes on each arm. Should you feel pins and needles at any point, pull the arm out and move it around, as this means there is a picking of nerves or blood vessels. You can then try again, and might be able to stay longer a second, third, or fourth time around.

There might not be much movement during this asana – gravity does most of the work, as does intention. .

Large arm rotations: Stand with feet hip width apart. Reach the arm in a semi-circle forward and up on inhale, back and down on the exhale. Repeat 5 or more times in each side to warm up the shoulder joints.

Keep your eyes on your fingertips as you move.

Garudasana arms: This asana lengthens the muscles in the upper back, between and under the shoulder blades. Follow the preparatory poses below from upper left -> upper right -> to lower right. Use the belt if need be (lower left).

Cross the arms at the elbow, bend the elbows, bring the backs of the hands together, then slide the palms of the hands together. If that is not available yet, use a belt and pull the hands apart while holding the belt.

The pictures below on the left show alignment mistakes; the photo on the right shows correct alignment for the pose.

Do not twist the hands – keep the pinkies away from from you and thumbs towards you (upper left). Do not fold your hands on top of each other (lower left). Keep wrists and fingers straight (right).

Raise the elbows, move the hands away from the face, and drop the shoulders. Round the spine and widen the space between the shoulder blades as you bend forward.

Experiment with bending more or less at the spine to find the most effective variation of the pose for you.

Gomukhasana arms: Bring one arm across the lower back, then bring the hand of the arm up between the shoulder blades. Bring the other arm up and back to meet the fingers of the lower arm, or use a belt. NB: keep the elbow of the upper arm “hugging” the ear – not out to the side – to allow the shoulder blade to drop.

Breathe space into the shoulders as you engage in this asana.

You may or may not bend forward, depending on the intensity of the pose for you.

Keep the back fairly straight, not deliberately rounded.

Thursday only: Uttanasana, single arm binds: take the legs mat-width apart, bend down then slide one arm under the leg. Keep the back of the hand towards the thigh. Other arm goes behind the back and binds with the first hand, or use a belt.

Straighten the legs to the best of your ability.

Half dog prep —> half dog: For a full description of how to properly engage with these asanas, refer to the full post from January, 2018.

Starting position for half dog pose
Half dog with bent knees

Thursday only: Extended side angle w/bind: Feet are in warrior II position, arm wraps around inside of bent, front leg.

Bring the head in line over the front foot – this will automatically align the hips. Keep heel of straight leg well grounded.

Thursday only: Upward plank: To counteract the above poses, take a seat, straighten the legs, flex the feet, position the hands behind you, then lift the hips up. Keep the insides of the legs zipped together and use your core and breath, instead of your glutes.

Upward table top variation is in top photograph. This is a good pose to practice if your neck tends towards stiffness, instead of the full upward plank.

Block between shoulder blades: Sit down first, then place the block on the ground behind you – trying to hold the block in place and lying down does not work. Believe me, I have tried it 😉 The top edge of the block supports the very bottom of the skull, giving the neck support and a little traction. Give yourself a big hug to open the shoulder blades wide, then open arms into “cactus arms,” keeping the elbows either at the same height, or higher than the wrists. Keep the wrists straight in line with the forearm, not “broken” back.

Photo on left shows where the block ought to be positioned once one is lying down. One can lift the hips to really wedge the block into the tight and held muscles between the shoulders.
Play with arm positions and see what feels like it gives you the most release. Keep the lower back relaxed at all times.

Finally, end with savansana, or lie over a bolster down your spine, and savor the release in your shoulders.

Happy practicing! 🙂



Author: Sylvia Vitazkova, PhD, CYT

Dr. Sylvia K. Vitazkova is a certified yoga teacher, life coach, horsewoman, and conservation biologist. Sylvia’s formal study of yoga began while she was an undergraduate at Cornell University, and intensified when she began to practice Ashtanga Yoga in 1997 while attending Columbia University for doctoral studies in biology. Sylvia soon realized that she wanted to help others experience the consciousness and transformation that her own practice fostered in her and began to teach in 1998, subsequently studying in Mysore, India, in 2002. Sylvia continues to evolve her practice by learning from senior teachers, the most influential of whom has been Barbara Benagh. Her teaching focus is on correct alignment, the joy of being fully present in one’s body, and the psychological and spiritual context within which the physical practice is embedded. Parallel to being a yoga teacher, Sylvia had a full-time career as a professor of Conservation Biology, having taught undergraduate and graduate courses, including a course she created on nature and spirituality, which brought her two areas of expertise together. She has conducted and published the results of her research on wildlife in the tropics, and has been involved in the creation of a number of conservation studies programs. Sylvia’s experience in mentoring students naturally led her to life coaching, in which she became certified through George Mason University in 2014. A lifelong connection with horses has been woven throughout these experiences, from her first pony while a child in Africa, to teaching at riding camp in the U.S., then Claremont Riding Academy in NYC, to the current and ongoing exploration of how yoga can be a tool for better and more connected riding. Sylvia now leads InBodied Living LLC, a wellbeing organization and consultancy, with her partner, James Houston.