Refine your practice and gain a deeper understanding about your body and how to move with intelligence and technique. Yoga is the art of paying attention, here’s one way to bring more focus to your practice.
There are so many of us who spend hundreds of hours every single month hunched over or slumped forward while we work desk jobs, travel or even when we just stand around. Over time, the rounded shape that our spines are in can become a permanent condition, as the muscles of our back continue to weaken and become overpowered by the muscles of our front body.
The great thing is that there is a lot that can be done to combat this seemingly “natural” consequence of growing older through a mindful and inquisitive yoga practice!
1. Sit easily on your heels or on one/two blocks with the spine upright. Reach the arms out to the side with palms facing down. Play with the idea of pressing back with the forearms initially, embracing all the sensations of the work, then observing which side tires, softens or reacts in a way different from the other.
Progress to the idea of pressing firmly back with the upper arms and notice which sections of the back seem to be reacting in a different manner as a consequence. Rest.
2. Initiate another exploration as above, and once the work sets into your upper back, allow the trapezius to soften slightly towards your waist and simultaneously reach your fingers outwards, especially the thumbs. Observe what subtler changes result.
3. Begin another round of work as above, and this time focus on pressing one arm back at a time, paying attention to how that side of the body feels, including the direction in which it wants to go.
4. Come back to sitting easily on two blocks with your arms hanging down by your side, palms towards your hips. While reaching your fingers down to the ground, re-engage the same sections of muscle that retract your shoulder blades closer to the spine.
5. Allow for some relief by pushing your hands forward and pulling your chest towards your back.
The work of retracting the shoulder blades can be applied in a variety of yoga poses, and can serve as important anchors for holding the mind steadier in each asana.
In Virabhadrasana 2 and Trikonasana, once the stability of the hips and legs have been established, and the entire trunk can be held as if in Tadasana, the shoulder blades can be drawn closer to the spine to the point where there is an even expansiveness between the front and back body.
In Parivritta Trikonasana, once the legs, especially the back foot, have been thoroughly rooted, and the spinal rotation begun, the bottom hand can be planted into the ground (or a block) and the idea of sliding the bottom arm backwards can be used to engage the upper back muscles allowing for a fuller, more even turning of the chest.
In Ustrasana, once the internal rotation of the hips has been balanced by the release of the tailbone away from the lower back, the shoulder blades can be retracted snuggly against the spine in order to heighten the degree of thoracic extension in the pose.
Marc Macadaeg is co-founder, Faculty Head and senior yoga teacher at Urban Ashram Yoga. His unique style of teaching vinyasa has attracted many practicioners who are looking to deepen their asana practice and their understanding of yoga. He has been a pioneer of the signature FNR (Flexibility Not Required) Program of Urban Ashram Yoga.