You have been doing a lot of vinyasa flow classes lately. You love it and gain so much from your practice, but you’ve noticed some nagging pain in your shoulder, wrists or your neck. You really don’t want to stop but you’re not sure what you’re doing wrong.
You’re not alone. Brisbane based physiotherapist Cathy Aganoff sees this problem a lot in her practice and the culprit can often be improper alignment in Chaturanga. So what’s this got to do with working in an office?
The nature of office work is that you tend to spend many hours a day sitting, staring at a computer screen with your arms in front of you and your shoulder blades elevated & protracted forwards.
As you can see from the image above the middle and lower trapezius muscles are placed on stretch in this posture and over the course of days, weeks or months these muscles adapt to this new position and this becomes their new resting length. When you try to lower down from high plank to a low plank in ‘Çhaturanga’ with your shoulder blades set against your rib cage they are no longer at their optimal length for generating tension. This is called ‘stretch weakness’ and basically means these muscles are not able to generate an optimal amount of tension at this altered length.
You are determined to execute the pose and your brain being very resourceful, instead of allowing you to collapse in a heap on your mat, recruits other muscles to stabilise the shoulder girdle and complete the job. This is where your upper trapezius muscle steps in and becomes dominant in stabilising the scapular. Ultimately your chaturanga may look like this….
Notice how in these pics the neck disappears. This is because the upper trapezius muscle is contracting and drawing the shoulder blades up towards the ears. Not only will your Chaturanga not look as poised, you may start to experience neck pain, shoulder tension or a pinching pain in your shoulders as a result. This muscular imbalance between the middle/lower trapezius and the upper trapezius is also commonly the culprit in wrist pain in chaturanga and other wrist support postures. When the scapular isn’t adequately stabilised against the rib cage by the middle and lower trapezius and the serratus anterior muscles, there is a failure of load transfer through these joints and the wrists are forced to bear more weight.
So how do you fix this problem? Firstly you need to correct your sitting posture while seated at your computer, which we will discuss in next week’s blog “Patanjali’s forgotten pose. A yogi’s guide to ‘computer-sitting posture’.
When it comes to performing chaturanga in vinyasa flow class, you may want to try the following variations.
Dropping the knees, takes the load off the shoulders and you are more likely to be able to maintain an ideal scapular position. Performing ‘yogi’ push-ups in this position will help to build strength in the triceps, which will help to build strength and stability in the pose.
As you gradually build strength in your lower/middle trapezius and serratus anterior muscles by practicing with these variations you will be able to execute your Chaturanga with grace and importantly without pain. Ignoring this crucial alignment cue and using the incorrect muscle recruitment will only cause problems later. If not through injury, it will likely hold you back when moving into more advanced postures like handstand or forearm balance. These advanced postures require adequate load transfer through the scapular, shoulders, elbows and wrists and become much more difficult to execute without optimal scapulothoracic muscle recruitment.
If you are suffering with neck, shoulder or wrist pain and you think it could be your posture or incorrect alignment in vinyasa yoga, you can contact Cathy for a one on one assessment. She offers online yoga therapy consultations, or if you live locally you can book an appointment at TriBalance Health + Wellness clinic in Brisbane.