Intermediate Group Class: Working with the Elbows

This class is carried on from the ideas in Practice Lab 1/27/09. The sequence is somewhat simpler, but the ideas are explained in more detail.

We carry a lot of emotion in the shoulders and, as a result, the muscles in the shoulders and neck become very reactive. It can be hard to work with the neck and shoulders directly. Consider the following ideas as you go through the following variations:

Balance the Elbow Joint

There are two general anatomical tendencies when it comes to the elbows:
• “O” arms, where the muscles in the chest, shoulders or arms are tight and the elbow joint does not quite extend as well as it should.
• “X” arms, where there is a pronounced carrying angle and/or a tendency to hyper-extend the elbow.

The goal is to balance out the stretch/weight carriage through the elbow joint. This will support the joint itself and will help distribute weight more evenly through the wrist/hand and shoulder.

“O” arms people should focus on moving the tip of the elbow towards the crack to open up the joint. “X” arms people should do the opposite, moving the crack towards the tip until the joint is balanced. (Note that for people with a pronounced carrying angle, it is only possible to balance the joint along this one axis. The arm will only look “straight” from one angle.)

Just because you have a particular tendency, it is important not to blindly do these actions. “O” arm people can quite easily lock out the elbow joint, just as “X” arms people can leave it slack and insufficiently open.

Position the Elbow Crack

In beginner classes we are often told to roll the crack of the elbow forward. This is not necessarily an improper instruction if the shoulders are tight, but, as with all things, it is possible to over-do it.

If you stand with your arms out straight in front of you and bend the elbows as if you were going to go into Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand) you will notice that the cracks of the elbows do not point all the way forward. Nor do they point directly at each other. They aim approximately at the webbing between the finger and thumb. This is the ideal position for the elbow crack when the arms are straight. This will position the upper arm bone, the humerus, in an optimal position in the shoulder socket.

People with tight shoulders might have to roll the cracks forward a little more to get them into the right alignment, but people with loose shoulders might have a tendency to over-do.

Move from the Elbow and the Floating Ribs

In order to keep the muscle surrounding the shoulder joint and neck in a more supple and responsive state, think of initiating movement in the arm from the balanced elbow joint relative to the floating ribs. This will indirectly encompass many of the muscles in between the two reference points: the lats, the deltoids, pec minor, the biceps and triceps to name the major ones. Think of softening and widening the floating ribs and the muscles around them. Then reach evenly through the elbow joint, sending it towards the wrist and finger tips.

Support the Elbow from the Hand and Scapula

To create strength at either end of the arm so that you are able to work more softly with the elbow itself, work with the following directions:

• Lengthen the fingers forward out of the metacarpals.
• Widen and lengthen the palm.
• Roll weight into the index finger and thumb.
• Widen the wrist.

• Strengthen and lengthen the inner border of the scapula down the back and away from the head.
• Widen the inner surface of the scapula.

When the arms are straight, if you are able to keep the elbow joint balanced, think of moving the whole joint outwards away from the midline of the body as you roll the weight in towards the midline in the hand and scapula. If you start to bend the elbows as a result of this additional action, either belt the elbows or ignore it for the time being.

When the arms are bent, think of moving the crack of the elbow deeper towards the tip as your lengthen through the wrists, hands and fingers at one end of the arm, and the scapula at the other.

In certain poses where the arms are bent, it can be helpful to work with rolling the cracks of the elbows away from the midline to either create more balanced strength in the upper body or more openness in the chest. Try it with these poses:

• Pincha Mayurasana (Peacock Feather Pose)
• Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)
• Bharadwajasana 1 and 2 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1 and 2)
• Gomukhasana arms (Cow Face Pose arms) in the arm behind the back
• Shirshasana 2 (Head Stand 2)
• Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)

Soften the Neck by Creating Space Inside the Skull

• Soften the roof of the mouth and dome it up towards the skull.
• When turning the head, turn it around the doming roof of the mouth.
• Soften and hollow out the eye sockets. Release the back of the neck by slightly pivoting the eye sockets down the length of the body around the eyeballs. (This is an idea from my friend and practice partner, Kristen Davis.)

The Sequence:

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Lie back with the bolster across the back rather than along it.
• Support the head and arms as necessary.

Bharadwajasana 1 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 1)
• Turn head in both directions.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Block(s) under the pelvis, legs straight and feet at wall.
• Belt wrists.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• On ropes if available.

Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2)

Utthita Parshvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)

Vashisthasana 1 (Vashistha’s Pose 1) Simple variation with knee down

Vashisthasana 1 (Vashistha’s Pose 1)

Bharadwajasana 2 (Bharadwaja’s Pose 2)
• Turn head in both directions.

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)

Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand)

Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Widespread Feet Pose 1)

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 2)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)

Halasana (Plough Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

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