July 30, 2019

How to Cue the Shoulderblades for Handstand, Down Dog, and more

how to move your shoulderblades in down dog, handstand and more

Three Fun Tips for Teaching Shoulderblade position in Down Dog, Handstand — and any time your arms are overhead.

There’s an enduring myth out there in #yogaland (ok, many enduring falsehoods) that our necks will tense up if we shrug / lift up / elevate the shoulderblades toward our ears.

False. Your shoulderblades were designed to MOVE in all the ways they can move.

In fact, when your arms are overhead (especially when bearing weight through them like in a lot of yoga poses), you want your shoulderblades to lift up (elevate) and upwardly rotate.

Most of the time you also want shoulderblade protraction (hugging of the shoulderblades around the sides of the ribs), but sometimes (say in wheel pose – Urdhva Dhanurasana – or a hollowback) you would want your shoulderblades to retract. (*)

Since many yogis have been badgered with the cue “Shoulderblades back and down” (here’s why that makes no anatomic sense), it can be tricky to teach these more anatomically-informed moves effectively. Or — as a student — to sort the chaff from the wheat, as they say.

Here’s how to cue the shoulderblades to help yogis achieve effective shoulderblade position when the arms are overhead:

Teaching Techniques

The video above is a must-see for visuals, but the teaching techniques I use most often are:

  • 1. Self-hug / Wrapping the arms around shoulders plus lift-off
  • 2. 80s aerobics arms
  • 3. Forearm Table Pose with cat / cow – to Dolphin pose

Verbal Cues to keep

The cues I give include:

  • – “Let the head hang heavy”
  • – “Push the ground away with your arms”
  • – “Lengthen from wrist to hips”

You’ll get more nuance on these nuggets by watching the video.

Practice this? Comment below with your thoughts.

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(*) Do you want to deeply understand the language and terminology of yoga anatomy? Check out our Online Yoga Anatomy Mentorship.

2 Comments on “How to Cue the Shoulderblades for Handstand, Down Dog, and more

August 21, 2019 at 8:52 pm

Hey! Great blog and video. I was wondering if you could explain why we would want to retract the shoulder blades while in a back bend with arms all the way overhead (i.e. urdhva danurasana)? From what you’re saying, the shoulderblades should be in upward rotation?

August 21, 2019 at 11:59 pm

Because the coupled action of shoulderblade retraction is thoracic extension — which is what is needed in urdhva danurasana. The coupled action of protraction of the shoulderblades is thoracic flexion – opposite of what you need. Both retraction and protraction are possible with upward rotation.


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