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YogaDork Ed: Get Off the Cuff, the Rotator Cuff

in YD News, YogaDork Ed

Warning: This article contains balls. Er, therapy balls that is (like these). Here’s another edition of YogaDork Ed. continuing the ongoing study of the great shoulder mystery.

By Christine Jablonski, Yoga Tune Up® Teacher


Yoga teachers often take advantage of the opportunity to craft “theme” classes; better yet, sometimes we get to take someone else’s “theme” class. One such class I went to recently as a student was an “agni” sequence intended to stoke our inner fires to last the winter solstice.

It would have been a lovely class of 9 rounds of 12 pushups, with crows, eagles, cranes and chaturangas in between except for one thing: the instructor did absolutely nothing to prepare our shoulders.  Naturally, having just graduated from Jill’s YTU Level 1 training, I was shocked and awed, and not in a good way. Moreover, I was scared for my fellow students in the room, not to mention myself. Judging from all of the winging scapulae in front of me, I was looking at about a hundred-and-something rotator cuff injuries waiting to happen. In fact, I am recovering from my own (non-yoga-related).

If there’s one thing we know from YTU it’s that not all poses are appropriate for all people. And even if the poses are appropriate, they require an appropriate warm-up. Arm-balances in particular need a careful, well-planned and complete warmup to strengthen the serratus anterior so the shoulder joint and the muscles of the rotator cuff don’t take the brunt of a student’s body weight and risk getting injured.

I have found it especially important to begin my arm balance warm ups with an upper body YTU ball sequence because it has helped me identify all of my rotator cuff muscles by feel. Aside from the physical benefits of stimulating circulation in the area, the ball work has gotten me very well-acquainted with my supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor & subscapularis. Yes, we’re on a first-name basis. Not only are my shoulders healing, but I am so acutely tuned in to what is happening in the muscles when I am in a pose that I can tell which muscle needs to be turned on or what is overcompensating for another muscle’s weakness.

While I had never considered ‘warm ups’ particularly effective for strength-building and definition, I must say that the Shoulder Shape Up series and a few other exercises like Plank with Serratus and Yogi Pushups have not only strengthened my surrounding shoulders muscles (serratus anterior in particular), but they’ve tone my upper body better than any amount of time in the gym. No more flabby triceps “parade wave” or arm-balance-induced shoulder pain? SWEET. And then there’s what one of my clients calls the “pure bliss” of Holy Cow at the Trough.

Below is a video clip of the Yoga Tune Up® pose Long Head of the Tricep pose, which is great for crafting strength and flexibility in my shoulder joint (while also taking care of the “parade wave”!).

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About Christine:

In addition to figuring out how my clients and I could feel even better (as well as look better in our jeans), curiosity about human biomechanics led me to study with Helena Collins of Life in Synergy, Sadie Nardini of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, and of course, Jill Miller. Combing the knowledge from these tremendous teachers with my strong Pilates background has enabled me to create exceptionally effective programs for my clients, who range from joint replacement patients needing post-physical therapy help to the “uninjured” wanting stronger, better aligned bodies so they can experience life to the fullest. Find her Yoga Tune Up® schedule here or learn more at her full website.

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7 comments… add one

  • Bridgette

    It’s scary to think that some instructors don’t properly warm up their class and design a safe sequence. Shoulder injuries can be so inhibiting and frustrating. I will absolutely be getting more aquainted with my shoulder muscles to the point WE’RE on a first name basis.

  • great graphics, great little video (i missed my thumbs first two tries ;-)

    the learned guardedness expressed is probably justified for just about everything pose and movement, yogic or otherwise, we do

    i’m still learning, and this info is very welcome, thanks you ;-)

  • I would love to be on better terms with my supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor & subscapularis :) I think I’ll be looking into that upper body YTU ball sequence.

  • YD-
    Really important stuff!!! I, too, love a good theme class. However, as a pretty classically trained instructor who honors traditional sequencing, I often find myself weary about the new vinyasa scene. I’ve wandered into too many classes where I’m forced to focus less about my breath and postures and more into self-protection mode. Likewise, as someone with a relatively established asana practice, I find myself fearful for the safety of my fellow practitioners.

    Thanks for this post!!!

  • BG2

    In a related note, I went to an Iyengar class (my first time, other than workshops) and discovered that there is no warm-up! If I had known I would have done a few sun salutes while the teacher was preparing, etc. We went right into deep hip and hamstring stretches. I definitely wasn’t able to stretch as deeply as if I had been warm, especially since I had literally rolled out of bed 40 minutes earlier. I have to say though, I had no discomfort the next day.

  • Isn’t the torn rotator cuff graphic that of a torn tendon, not a torn ligament?

  • John

    Very very helpful, as I am recovering from a torn rotator cuff (surgery) myself and want to become an instructor. First I must work my shoulder back to health (PT now), and make sure I don’t damage the other shoulder when I get back to practice. Grazie

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