Inspired by yoga teacher Alexandria Crow’s articles on decoding alignment cues (click here to read more), we decided to decode and explore some cues our local teachers say in classes that may be confusing for those new to yoga. DRAW YOUR… is a series by anatomy art geek Tami Ledesma, in which she literally draws the body parts up, down, in, and around, illustrating the most common cues you hear at a yoga studio.
When weʼre tense, our shoulders tend to hike up to our ears and pinch the sides of our neck. It happens in the office, in the movies, in traffic, and yes, even in yoga.
While yoga helps relieve tension, we can still get a little stiff trying to follow instructions, and have to be reminded to:
“draw your shoulders down” “relax your shoulders”
“roll your shoulders back”
So how does that work? Letʼs keep it simple: youʼve got your scapula or shoulder blades sitting right at the top of your back ribs. They slide up, down, and around the sides of the rib cage to allow shoulder and arm movement. For this article, weʼll just talk about the trapezoids, your masseuseʼs favorite muscle to knead.
When you hike your shoulders up, the upper traps tighten up, giving you the feeling of a stiff neck and tension at the base of the skull.
To “draw them down,” your lower traps contract pulling the scapula down to give your neck more space. Try it in Upward Dog, Warrior 2, while carrying a heavy object, or sitting in traffic.
But hereʼs an interesting thing to note: when you lift your arms overhead, your shoulder blades have to slide up!
Your upper and lower traps will contract to cause this upward rotation. The lower traps, in particular, tilt the inner edges of the shoulder blades down, allowing the outer edges to lift up so you can raise your arms.
Now to keep the shoulders out of your ears, you need to externally rotate the arms. This will move the shoulder blades apart and around the sides of the rib cage, giving your neck the space it needs. This is what we mean when we say:
“wrap your triceps forward”
“spin your biceps towards your ears” “hollow out your armpits”
Weʼll cover more on the muscles of arm rotation in another post. For now, try wrapping your triceps forward to draw the shoulders away from your ears while in Warrior 1, inversions, while lifting up a heavy object, or dancing around.
When she isn’t drawing body parts, you can find her teaching Vinyasa, FNR, Gentle Flow, and Pre-Natal yoga at Urban Ashram, or pulsing among her students at Barre3. Follow her asana adventures on Instagram at @movewithtami.