Saturday, August 18, 2012

Seven Cases of Yoga Shoulder Creep

Warrior II Pose
Warrior II Pose (Photo credit: lululemon athletica)
In a recent post on her excellent blog "Alignment Matters!" Katy Bowman reminded me why I need to be so careful in my yoga practice not to let my shoulders creep up my neck towards my ears. Yoga asanas provide an opportunity to correct some of the muscular imbalances I've created as I go through my activities of daily living, but only if I don't bring those same movement patterns onto my mat. Stop reading this post for a moment and notice where your shoulders are. Have they crept up your neck? If you have creeping shoulders, here's seven asanas where you'll need to stay aware of them:
  1. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) Bring your arms over your head, shoulder width apart, palms facing each other. Could you get your arms up there without your shoulders climbing towards your ears? Drop the tops of your shoulders down so your shoulder blades move onto the back of your ribcage and feel the tension melt out of your neck and jaw.
  2. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) I see shoulder creep in Vira II all the time in my classes, as well as in my own practice. Float your arms out to the sides until they are shoulder height and hold them there. Notice where you start to feel the "burn" of the isometric contraction that's keeping your arms in place. Is it in the tops of your shoulders and the sides of your neck? That's the result of shoulder creep. Drop those babies down and feel the muscles in the tops of the arms take over.
  3. Paripurna Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist) You've got one hand on your knee, the other on the floor behind your back and you've just twisted to the side. Before you even think about turning your head to look over your shoulder, check out where that shoulder is. Are you trying to keep your spine long by lifting up with your shoulders? Untwist, drop the shoulders down and, instead, lift the bottom of your ribcage away from your hips. Now make the twist with your shoulders relaxed and lots of length in your lumbar spine.
  4. Bhugangasana (Cobra) You want your heart to move forward through your arms in Cobra, but if you've got a bad case of shoulder creep you may find yourself dragging your heart up by your shoulders then squeezing your shoulder blades together to push the heart through. Not only is that building tension in your neck, but you're limiting the ability of the thoracic spine to lengthen into a beautiful backbend. As you lift into your next Cobra, slide your heart forward as you lift, keep your elbows hugging your sides and let your shoulder blades slide down without moving them towards the spine. Lift your ears away from your shoulders and lift the top of your sternum towards your throat and feel your heart open.
  5. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) What? My shoulders just have to hang there. How can they be creeping up my neck? Watch somebody new to yoga, especially someone who is tight in the hamstrings or in the low back, try to get deeper into a forward fold. The knees lock, the low back rounds and the shoulders pull the upper back towards the legs, tightening around the neck with every breath. Yes, it happens. I've seen it. Worse, I've done it. (Hey, I was a yoga newbie once too.)
  6. Trikonasana (Triangle) Sitting right where you are, lift your shoulders up and in towards your ears. Now turn your head to one side. Feel that pinch where your neck meets the top of your shoulder? Bring your head back to center, drop your shoulders back into the relaxed position they were in before I told you to lift them and try the head turn again. Better? Next time you try to look up at your hand in Triangle, remember that.
  7. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge) If you can't get your hips very high in Bridge, it might be that shoulder creep again, only this time it's the neck crunching down into the shoulders that's causing the problem. Before you lift your hips, relax your shoulders and drop your chin towards your throat so the bottom of the back of your skull is resting on the floor. You'll feel the back of your neck lengthen out of your shoulders. Once you've lifted, keep your chin tucked and move your shoulders towards your hips as you draw them behind your back. Now the heart can lift too, allowing the hips to lift higher.
Katy's post shows what shoulder creep does to Downward-facing Dog. Next time you're on your mat, notice where else your shoulders start climbing your neck. In which poses do you need to correct shoulder creep?
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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer: Raw and Abstract

Summers in the Adirondacks tend to be fast and furious. By mid-August there are already hints of fall: mornings and evenings are cool and the trees take on a yellower hue. College students are heading back to campus (my daughter leaves next week) and back-to-school preparations are being made. It's not over, but now summer quiets after six weeks of non-stop activity.

After the rush of summer I welcome the transition to autumn, my favorite season. Schroon Lake offers many fun summer activities - too many to try them all - and I have learned to make time for my favorites and let the rest go, lest summer plans collapse into utter chaos.

For the second summer in a row, one of the blessings of summer has been welcoming bellydance instructor Natalie Kalinowicz to the True North Yoga studio for a series of bellydance workshops. I shake the dust off my hip scarf (to the happy sound of jingling coins) and re-learn how to shimmy my hips. I started bellydancing in New Jersey before we made the move north and I miss it terribly. In addition to the fun exercise, bellydance encourages women to come together in community and dance just for themselves. There is one more workshop this Sunday, August 19th, at 3:00 pm. If you're in the area, join us!

Also on the "must-do" list for me is to see each of the four productions of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company. They call their style "Shakespeare in the Raw," meaning they use no sets and have very basic costumes and props. They focus on the acting, and I have to say I "get" so much more from the plays than any other time I've seen them performed. The actors are very entertaining as well. True North Yoga helps to "sponsor" their summer here by welcoming the actors to attend yoga classes when they get a break from performing and it is always lovely to have their energy in class. Plus they're really good at sounding "om."

Hamlet in the remains of the resort's ampitheater in what is now Scaroon Manor State Park

A new treat this summer has been Art in the Park, weekly art projects in Schroon Lake's Town Park facilitated by none other than my favorite artist and life coach Annie Gregson. While we weren't able to get there every week, my son and I have enjoyed making mosaics, mandala-like "kaleidoscope" drawings and, just this morning, turning abstract collages of colors and shapes...

into an even more abstract acrylic paintings.

Summer has been a glorious rush, and I'll probably miss it when it's gone, for a moment. But as the leaves begin to fall there will be new, albeit quieter, activities. I'll begin homeschooling my son and will be teaching my first advanced yoga studies and 200-hour yoga teacher training program. It looks like the Adirondacks will have at least four new yoga teachers by spring. And that will be as glorious as summer.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mountains on Wednesdays

Although my son tries to convince me every week that sleeping in would be better than hiking, we've seen the tops of a good number of mountains this summer. We're not done, but, since I haven't posted any pictures yet, I thought I'd share some highlights.

Near the summit of Pharaoh Mt. in Schroon Lake with my niece

Exploring the trails after a storm at the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb

Treating a friend to the views on top of Baxter Mt.

Standing on the top of Bald Peak in New Russia

Looking up at the fire tower on Goodnow Mt.

Looking out at the High Peaks from Rooster Comb Mt.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Long Time Sun

It's been a long time since I posted, I know. Every year summer pulls me out of my center and whirls me around like a hurricane. At this time of the year I am looking forward to autumn's cooler weather and calmer energy.

Each year has its own ups and downs. Last year seemed to swing wildly from ecstatic highs to heart-wrenching lows. This year has, so far, had a much more even keel. I've been blessed with some very happy moments and not too much personal sadness and, for the most part, I've been comfortably following the path that the universe laid in front of me. Interestingly, it's the same path I followed through the last year's joy and sorrow.

It's easy to accept that you're going in the right direction during joyful times, but during times of grief, pain, anger or depression it's just as easy to question the same path, or lose sight of it completely. I have many times railed at the universe for bringing me to places of sadness and, caught up in pain and grief, turned circles on the spot. Eventually, and without fail, a light appears to guide me back to the path.

Some of my friends are experiencing grief, uncertainty and pain this year. Even if you've spun yourself dizzy, a light will appear to lead you out of the sadness. It has to. It's within you. Keep the faith.

Thanks to Kasha Mama for the lovely video.
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