Practice notes: Balancing the Shoulder Girdle
The shoulders are designed to favor mobility over stability . This sequence engages muscles that stabilize the shoulders and scapula, including the muscles of the upper arms, rhomboids, serratus anterior, and abdominal muscles. This stability is essential when practicing arm balancing poses such as pinca mayurasana (http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/1711).
In this sequence we experience broadening actions around the lower back ribs (kidney band) and upper back and the expansion of the back of the lung. We work to drop the breath into this area as 60% of the lung is in the back body.
We counter that movement with lifting the upper chest (sternum and collarbones) and feel the expansion of the top lung under the clavicle. This action prepares for the back bend, ustrasana (http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/688). The top chest is home to prana vayu, the upward rising wind or life force in the body.
I suggest researching each of these poses before practicing this sequence. I have highlighted the alignment details pertinent to this series, but my descriptions of the poses are not complete. Yoga Journal's website does a good job of describing each pose and includes photos. This sequence is not for beginners.
Supported matsyasana- lie on your back with your knees bent. Place a rolled blanket perpendicular to your spine, under the lower tips of your shoulder blades. Hold a block between your palms and reach the block up to the ceiling to free your shoulder blades. Then reach the block overhead so your upper arms are in line with your ears.
Adho Mukha Virasana with a blanket supporting forearms- come to hands and knees, with your knees wide and your feet touching. Sit back on your heels, slide your sacrum away from your lumbar, and reach your arms forward like down dog arms. Place your rolled blanket under your forearms so your hands still touch the floor. With your elbow lifted in this way there is an upward movement of your forearms. Feel the broadness of your back body, the external rotation of your upper arms, and the action of your tricep muscles engaging.
Adho Mukha Svanasana- from your virasana pose come to your hands and knees with your hands shoulder distance apart. Spread your fingers and root the base of your index finger and thumb into your mat. Externally rotate your upper arms and widen your shoulder blades as you lift your hips into dog pose. Maintain the feeling of lift in your forearms you experienced in adho mukha virasana.
High Lunge- step your right foot forward and align your right ankle under your left knee. Keep your fingertips on the floor or on blocks. Press back through your left heel (toes turned under) and raise your left thigh bone towards your hamstring to open the front of your left hip. Repeat with the left foot forward.
Tadasana- stand in tadasanaand raise your right arm up so your palm faces back. With your left hand draw your right outer under arm area forward, effectively drawing your shoulder blade away from your spine.
Sun salutations- practice A series focusing on widening the upper back and engaging your upper arms. In your urdhva mukha svanasana (updog) press your inner palms to the floor and lift your forearms. Raise your upper sternum and expand your collarbones by drawing your outer shoulders back. Draw your sacrum down away from your lumbar.
Prasarita Padottanasana- place the palms of your hands on floor between the arches of your feet, shoulder width apart. Actively lift and broaden your shoulder blades and aim your breath into the back of your heart. Repeat this pose and on the second round interlace your fingers behind your back to broaden your top chest. Aim your breath under your collarbones. Virabhadrasana I with the back heel raised- actively take your sacrum down away from your lumbar. With your palms facing each other draw your shoulder blades apart creating space in your upper back. Lift your upper sternum bone and reach through your pinky fingers.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand)- practice with your fingertips a few inches from the wall. Bring the arm and shoulder actions from adho mukha svanasana into your handstand. Actively lift your sacrum up away from your lumbar and press out through your heels.
Garudasana arms in virasana- sit in virasana with a block supporting your pelvis. Take your outer calves and the pinky toe sides of your feet down. Bring your arms into garudasana and squeeze your outer arms to your inner arms. Aim your breath into the back of your heart.
Forearm dog- place your forearms on the mat shoulder width apart. Place your palms down and ground the base of your thumb and index finger. Raise your hips into a down dog posture. Actively lift and broaden your shoulder blades.
Twisting low lunge- in your twist draw your top shoulder blade toward your spine to open your top lung.
Forearm chaturanga dandasana- this is a variation of chaturanga with the forearms on the mat instead of the palms. Actively draw your sacrum away from your lumbar and retract your shoulder blades. Broaden your back ribs.
Ardha matsyendrasana- as you twist to the right draw your right shoulder blade towards your spine to open your right lung. Repeat on the left side.
Pinca Mayurasana- place your forearms on the mat shoulder width apart with your fingertips close to the wall. Place your palms down and ground the base of your thumb and index finger. Raise your hips into a down dog posture. Actively lift and broaden your shoulder blades. On your exhale kick up into the full pose. Props are very useful in learning this pose: use a block on it's broad flat side place between your thumb and index finger. Strap your elbows so they are restrained from splaying wide. Place a folded mat or slant board under your elbows.
Balasana with hands interlaced at your sacrum- this is a nice release after pinca mayurasana. Spread your collarbones and aim your breath into your upper chest to create space there.
Ustrasana- in camel pose take your outer calves and the pinky toe sides of your feet down. Draw your sacrum away from your lumbar to maintain the length of your low back. Lift your side waist and your upper sternum and spread your collarbones. Take your outer shoulders back.
Adho Mukha Svanasana with a short stance (feet closer to hands) to allow your low back to round slightly. Then lengthen your pose again and extend both sides of your spine evenly.
Supta sukhasana- as you rest back into this reclining pose allow your entire back body to soften into the floor. This is a wonderful release after the intense tapas of this series.
Savasana- support the backs of your knees with a rolled blanket to facilitate the release of your back body. Sandbag the palms of your hands to release strain out of the wrists.