Have you ever had a shoulder injury? If so (or even if not) it’s important to get clear about how your shoulder works so that you don’t re-injure yourself.
Quite often, learning how to locate your body’s tissues and taking the time to learn a bit about anatomy can make all the difference between keeping your body functional and damaging yourself in Downward Dog. A bum shoulder can make all sorts of everyday movements painful and difficult, so it’s vital to keep yours in working condition.
In this post, I’ll give you the tools to do just that!
Steve Martin: The “wild and crazy” yogi
The shoulder is the “Steve Martin” of our body’s joints — it’s “wild and crazy.”
That reference might date me, and some of you may not remember the genius Martin’s stand-up comedy act, but it’s a great starting point for us to try to grasp the nearly un-graspable variety of movements that a healthy shoulder permits. (Did you notice how many shoulder movements Steve does in his act?!)
Your shoulder has three bones and four joints. But, in the case of the shoulder, three times four does NOT equal 12 movements. You see, shoulder mechanics are not simple math. These joints render more like 14 to 17 movements, depending on which kinesiology text book you consult.
But the number of moves is not nearly as important as the quality of your movements and your connection to those moves. It can be very kinetically confusing to sense how your shoulders are behaving at all times, which brings me back to the “wild and crazy” theme.
Ball and socket and then some
Here comes the anatomy lesson!
Your shoulders have a ball-and-socket joint that permits an unparalleled amount of unrestricted motion. Go ahead— flail your arms around right now to go a little wild and crazy….
That ball-and-socket joint is the bony junction of the long bone of the arm, the humerus, and the floating triangle shaped shoulder bone, the scapula. These two bones give the shoulder its great range of motion. A third bone, the clavicle (your collar bone), hooks the shoulder complex into the sternum so that it doesn’t fly away!
Nearly 20 muscles — from the well-known trapezius and deltoids to the lesser known pectoralis minor — also influence shoulder movements. These muscles are excellent at helping mobilize and stabilize the shoulders, unless they have been rendered dysfunctional. If these muscles are weak, they may have trouble assisting movements or maintaining a position. If they are too strong, they may have trouble lengthening or permitting motions to happen.
Shoulder test: Pranic Bath
Try this total shoulder muscle activator, The Pranic Bath, to help the muscles of your shoulders move your arms into almost every conceivable range of motion. Click on the link, give it a try, and I’ll meet you at the next set of images.
Your mission: Shoulder range-of-motion starter kit
The following are images of 12 different humerus, scapula and clavicle moves. You mission is to try them out on your body. Hold each “position” for a total of five breaths, while attempting to strongly contract the muscles that create each distinct motion.
Great job! It’s a little like learning the ABC’s of your shoulders. Now play the Pranic Bath video again, and try to articulate to yourself which directions of movement are happening to your shoulders at every phase throughout the exercise.
The more awareness you have of how your shoulders move, the less likely you’ll be to injure them, so take some time to reacquaint yourself with this all-important joint system whenever you feel the need. Mission accomplished!