When is the last time you heard the cue in Downward Facing Dog, “draw your shoulder blades towards your hips”? Or in Crescent Lunge (arms raised), “pull your shoulder blades down your back”? I invite you to ignore those cues. Yes, ignore them.
Your arm bone (humerus) connects to your shoulder blade (scapula) via a highly-mobile ball and socket joint. As the joint moves and flows, the “ball” slides, spins, and glides in the socket to generate the desired motions. When the arm bone moves past a certain degree of movement, the shoulder blade is required to move with the arm bone to support continuous joint congruency (Joint congruent is the measurement of two opposing joint surfaces as they relate to one another. Overall, it can be described as how well joint surfaces match or fit with each other.)
In regards to reaching your arm outwards (shoulder abduction) or significant forward movement (shoulder flexion – think Downward Facing Dog pose), the shoulder blade should be allowed to rotate upwards (as seen in the video below). And when the arm returns to neutral, the shoulder blade returns as well via “downward rotation”. This continuity of movement is called Scapulohumeral Rhythm. The cue of “draw your shoulder blades down” generates DOWNWARD rotation of the shoulder blades. This is opposite to the rhythm we are needing to facilitate when the shoulders are highly abducted or flexed.
Besides going against joint congruency principles, the action of “shoulder blades down” during significant shoulder abduction or flexion can lead to shoulder impingement of a tendon or bursa sac deep in the shoulder complex (subacromial space). Purposefully engaging scapular UPWARD rotation in shoulder abduction and fuller degrees of shoulder flexion promotes stabilization of the shoulder girdle through better engagement of the serratus anterior muscle (often lacking in many people’s practice and frequently a key element of stability dysfunction).
Give Downward Facing Dog a try with the traditional “pull your shoulder blades towards your hips” and then, play and work with upward rotation (I try to imagine my shoulder blades spinning apart like wings opening up while also lightly hollowing out my under arms). Sense the change of “quality” in the shoulder joints, less congestion, and the overall shift in firing patterns of the musculature. Then, translate this to other postures: ie Tree, Crescent Lunge, Wheel. Just keep in mind the difference between elevating (lifting) your shoulder blades versus upward rotation … btw – there is nothing wrong with elevating your shoulder blades despite what we seem to be constantly told in classes … the shoulder blades were meant to elevate! We just need to incorporate functional firing of scapular depression (opposite of elevation) in our practices as well to counter the common overuse of scapular elevation in our daily lives – however, Downward Facing Dog is NOT the place for depression.
I will be integrating this technique of upward rotation as part of my upcoming live online workshop: Downward Facing Dog: Exploring 6 Foundation Tips … join us live on November 23 or register for the recorded version of the webcast: CLICK HERE