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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Jul 8, 2011

Shoulders - or "Please Don't Squeeze the Rhomboids"

This session at the studio my teaching is focused on shoulders and I am enjoying it tremendously.  It's the first time in nearly 2 years that I haven't been in the middle of, or on the verge of, teaching an Immersion or a Teacher Training and I am happy to find that my enthusiasm for "just studio classes" has not waned. I am enjoying having more time to fund my enthusiasm.

 My teaching on shoulders has been pretty technical -  zeroing in on anatomy, alignment and therapeutics.  Shoulders are so complex that when I turn my attention to them, my teaching gets more detailed. The hips are complex in their own way but really - they are pretty straight ahead in their main function as ambulators. The shoulders - on the other hand - are articulators and are extremely adept at adaptation.  Like any good articulator - they can find a wide variety of ways to say what they want to say.  While the hips are ambulating forward - holding down the base note - the shoulders and arms can loop and arc and push and pull like a crazy improv jazz performance.  The scapulae can raise, lower, move to the mid-line or way out to the sides (winging) and they can tilt in all three anatomical dimensions. They do all this complex combination of articulation, movement and holding in place - thanks to quite a number of muscles, each of which flexes and contracts independently. What's more is that these muscles span a distance from the jaw to the pelvis (where the lattisimus dorsi attaches).  That's a lot of distance and there are a lot of muscles involved.  Its no wonder that the scapulae have such a great ability to adapt.  For example, if there is a loss of range of motion due to injury or arthritis - the shoulders recruit different muscles and actions - and tilt farther forward or back, shift up or down, angle right or left, as if to say "OK - can't go under it - gotta go over it....can't go over it, gotta go around it" . Sooner or later, though, it's time to pay the piper. The easy adaptation is over – and range of motion seriously decreases in a "use it or lose it" downward spiral.  

What's my point? - Well - it takes tremendous mapping of our awareness onto our back body (just the place where mindfulness does not easily go) to learn to stabilize the shoulders onto the back.  In my opinion and experience, it an oversimplification to teach students to "engage your rhomboids and make them work harder".  The rhomboids are one part of a much more complex and interwoven set of actions.  When you focus on the rhomboids as the "big fix" for shoulders - contraction and hardening happen....every time. What is possible instead, from skillful shoulder work including both strength and range of motion (or stability and freedom if you will) is so much nicer than contraction..... it's the pleasure that comes in the wake of spaciousness and expansion.  If I am willing to stay the course and learn the theory and intricacies of my shoulders and apply that knowledge in practice (via the UPA's which are - as usual - spot-on) I can sustain - or regain - pleasure of freedom of movement.

I think it's a lot about pleasure. An integrated action in the shoulders leads to an opening - a physical expansion and easing of shoulders as well as a deep energetic expansion.  And that is truly pleasurable.


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