Optimizing Arm Lift in Yoga

Optimizing Arm Lift in Yoga

You’ve probably heard over and over from your teachers, to draw your shoulders down away from your ears when your arms are overhead.

Recently, I watched this instructional video on how to maximize arm lift from Master Yoga Teacher Roger Cole, Ph.D., author of the alignment column for the Yoga Journal Magazine and yoga teacher for the past 40 years). He explains that when you draw the shoulders down, you engage the pectorals (chest muscles), which prevents your shoulders from rotating back, utilizing full range of motion. Let’s put it in action and see what he means.

First try this:

Draw your shoulders down away from your ears. Hold that. Now guide your arms backwards as far as they’ll go. Take note of the range of motion here.

Now try again:

This time, reach your arms up high, allowing your shoulders to rise. Spin your triceps (outer arms) towards your nose, and reach your arms back as far as they’ll go. To avoid undo tension at your neck, draw the back of your neck down.You’ll probably notice that your arms didn’t shift back nearly as far as the time before, when you allowed your shoulders to lift first.

Here’s an image from the American Yoga School of what happens when you allow your shoulders to lift up:

image of humerus in glenoid allowing shoulders to lift up


Notice that the Humerus (upper arm bone) stays snuggled within the Glenoid Cavity (shoulder socket).




This is what happens when you draw your shoulders back, away from your ears:

image of humerus in glenoid when you draw shoulders away from the ears


Notice that the position of the shoulder blade shifts, and the head of the Humerus loses connectivity with the Glenoid (socket).




Here’s what it looks like when you try a handstand drawing your shoulders away from your ears:

image of handstand drawing shoulders away from ears


See how far the head of the arm bone moves away from the socket! This is not good, and how injuries happen when a student falls!!! EEEEeeek!



Play around with this in your practice, noticing what shifts occur as you experience greater range of motion and joint connectivity. Here are some poses to practice lifting your shoulders up in: Warrior 1, Chair Pose, Full Backbend, Crescent Lunge,  and Handstands just to name a few. Remember to draw the back of your neck down towards your spine to free up any tension there. Feel free to comment here about what you discover.

Kelli Russell
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  • Jenny Harkleroad
    Posted at 08:42h, 11 January Reply

    Thanks for learning all this anatomical stuff to keep our bodies safe while we practice!

    • Kelli Russell
      Posted at 14:22h, 31 January Reply

      My pleasure Jenny – that’s one of goals as a teacher : )

  • David Vieira
    Posted at 15:31h, 11 January Reply

    Thank You Kelli! I wish I came across this information years ago.

    • Kelli Russell
      Posted at 14:21h, 31 January Reply

      I love to share information, David! Thanks for checking it out!

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