Stabilize & Activate: Shoulder Joint

Yogis! I am sharing my recent workshop with you.  Enjoy! The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints. Which, of course, means it is less stable and open to a greater risk of injury.

With so much mobility and potential for injury, special attention and care is needed to properly position and stabilize the shoulders before bearing weight. When the shoulder joint isn’t positioned or stabilized properly and then asked to bear weight repetitively, injuries can happen.  Shoulder pain in YOGA can be due to so many imbalances, weaknesses, rotator cuff impingement, inflammation, etc.

The good news is: the stabilizers of the shoulder can all be strengthened to keep the shoulder supported and healthy. Cultivating awareness and intimacy with the shoulders are the first steps in strengthening and protecting!

Activating (and understanding) shoulder stability is a multi-step process.  The shoulders are linked to the core (like everything!) so an activated core is essential to activating the shoulders.

First, let's take a deeper look the anatomy of the shoulders...

We will look at 2 joints:

  1. Ball & Socket joint – where the humerus meets the shoulder blade
  2. Gliding Joint - AC (acromioclavicular) Joint – where the shoulder blade attaches to the collarbone

Rotator Cuff Muscles are the primary stabilizers of the joints: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor

The biceps and triceps are the secondary stabilizers of the joints.

Specific Core Muscles, such as the serratus anterior and rhomboids, all support and stabilize the joints as well.

shoulder muscles

Next, let's look at the various movements the components of the shoulder joints are capable of...

Scapula (shoulder blade) or the Gliding Joint: Protraction (out, away from the spine), retraction (in, toward the spine), rotation (down towards the hips or up towards the ears)

Ball and Socket Joint of the upper arm: Flexion (up, arm reaching up over head), Extension (down, arm reaching behind), abduction (out, arm reaching out to the side), adduction (across the body), rotations (external, opening the chest; internal, opening the back)

Now, it is time to learn the activation cues to engage and stabilize the many supports of the shoulders...

Stabilize & Activate

First, stand with your feet hip distance apart. Broaden through the feet and lengthen the legs.  Stand up tall.

  1. Engage the low belly muscles - scoop your navel back and up.
  2. Lightly pull and tether your bottom, front ribs in and down. Subtly shorten the distance between the sternum and the pelvis; Lengthen the spine up through the back of the neck and into the crown of the head.
  3. Reach your arms out in front of you with your arms parallel to the ground and your palms facing inward.
  4. Hug the head of the upper arm bone back into the shoulder socket and slightly down (engages the subscapularis – often felt as engagement in armpit). Don't lose the activation of the core above.
  5. Keep hugging the arm bones in and down; Now reach forward through the hands and fingertips. Lengthen the arms both forward/out and back./in at the same time (engages serratus – often felt along ribs). Don't lose the tethering of the bottom ribs inward!
  6. Keep all of the above engaged; Without actually moving, hug the hands towards one another. Gently pulse this engagement until it becomes clear (activates deltoids – felt on the front of shoulders).
  7. Keep all of the above engaged; Broaden the collarbones. Subtly turn the biceps up and out. This lightly retracts the shoulder blades (engages infraspinatus, teres minor - felt in the back of the shoulders). Don't lose the core activation! Lengthen through the back of the neck, tether the front ribs in and scoop the low belly back.

These 7 cues of activation will prepare your core and shoulders in multiple foundations.  Get clear standing, without bearing any weight.  Then, take the cues with you onto your hands and knees.  Continue to explore through movements.  Be curious!  Get intimate with your shoulders!  If you feel sharp pain, pinching or intense, building pressure or if your intuition yells, "back off!" - LISTEN.  Your body is far more intelligent than anything you might read or be told.  LISTEN.  Keep listening.  Allow your body to inform you of how to move and your sensations to guide your inquiries.

Check out one of my workshops to explore these actions in different postures and movement.