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Weak Shoulders in Downward Dog

Blazeyoga2010-07-05 00:48:52 +0000 #1
Hello. I just started Ashtanga Yoga recently and i really enjoy it. I have been doing a beginners course once a week for about 6 weeks now. The last week i have begun doing (or attempting to do) Suryanamaskara A and B five times each every morning.

I have enough body strength for most of the Ashtanga moves we have tried in class (except some of the really taxing strength ones which im working up to) and my flexibility which was very poor to begin with is improving greatly.

However, my shoulders seem very weak in holding poses. Mainly in downward dog. So much so that i can normally only do 5 Suryanamaskara A's and about 3 Suryanamaskara B's. I find it a bit frustrating as I am strong enough in the rest of my body to do more but my lack of shoulder strength in static positions is holding me back.

Is the best thing to do to just practice holding downward dog for three minutes or so at the end of the day to build up that shoulder strength or is there some other exercises i can do help it along?

many thanks

- Blaze


Nichole2010-07-05 00:50:45 +0000 #2
Hey Blaze,

Have you asked your teacher to see if you are missing something in the alignment?

Some of the common misaligned we see in yoga therapy are 1. hyperextension of the shoulders in the attempt to bring the head closer to the floor and 2. hyperextended, locked or rotated elbows--elbows should be kept straight so that they eyes (or inner bend) of the elbows face each other at all times.

If your teacher is had OKed your alignment and it is just an issue of muscle weakness, holding poses static is the best way to tone musculature as it relates directly to that pose. Rather than commit to a predetermined amount of time to hold the pose, focus on the quality of the pose and how it changes as you are in it. You should be able to breath easily and fully, and swallow while you are in the pose. These are the earliest warning signals from our bodies, and loosing these means that we are straining. Come out the pose and rest before going back in. Your counter poses for downdog include the cobra, locust and bow.

If you begin to shake while holding the pose, watch the quality of the shaking. Is it may be that fatigue is beginning or it may be a kriya. Stay where it comfortable and take your time building muscle tone so that you can continue practice and not be sidelined by injury.

Best wishes,
InnerAthlete2010-07-05 01:31:07 +0000 #3
Hi Blaze.

I think Nichole has provided a reply that is incredibly thorough and yet to the point. I am envious.

In the Ashtanga series there is typically an abundance of Chaturanga Dandasana in that version of Surya Namaskar. While I do not teach or practice Ashtanga, I have taken enough classes in the first series to know that much.

We choose our practice for a reason, sometimes unbeknowst to us on the conscious level. Since you have elected to find yourself through that practice then the most sound answer should blossom from the teacher to whom you are entrusting that growth.

The Ashtanga practice was intended as a practice for youthful, slim, fit, agile students with furtive minds. Obviously there are things we can do as slim 19 year olds that are much more "challenging" to do as robust 35 year olds. The muscles of the rotator cuff; supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis not only work together but they are somewhat fragile in nature. They can be built a bit but they can also be easily damaged.

If your situation is only one of muscular endurance in Adho Mukha Svanasana then of course this will build over time in your practice through phalankasana, bhujangasana, urdhva mukha svanasana, sirsasana, vasisthasana, urdhva dhanurasana, adho mukha vrksasana, and pincha mayurasana. Keep in mind you've been practicing less than two months and this is an entire art to learn at every level of your body (speaking physically only for this post, thank you).

If, however, you are experiencing pain in the shoulder joint, or are placing "excessive" load on those four muscles I mentioned, then it might be best (in terms of safety over time) to modify Chaturanga in the plethora of surya namaskars that you are choosing to execute.

Generally speaking, due to the angle of the body in AMS the work is not entirely in the deltoids (which you reference when you say "my shoulders"). But it is not at all unusual for there to be challenge in this sort of supporting at this stage of your practice. If this is still occuring 6 months from now then a different reply would be warranted.

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