Lower Your Shoulder Blades?
In his How to Heal (and Prevent) Shoulder Injuries (2007) Doug Keller begins, “Each time you lift your arms, your shoulder muscles- both big and small -initiate a dance full of subtle nuances. The complex interaction of those muscles, coupled with the unique structure of the shoulder joint, give our arms a wide range of motion. In fact, the shoulder is one of the loose joints in the body.”
“But this freedom of movement comes at a price: shoulders are vulnerable to injury both from sudden falls and from repetitive action such as throwing a baseball. The muscles of the rotator cuff, the most delicate movers of the shoulders, are particularly susceptible. But here is the good news: a regular, targeted asana practice can help you maintain healthy rotator cuffs by bringing awareness to your alignment, strengthening your shoulder muscles, and opening your chest.”
Early on, I struggled with where to place the scapula on bringing the arms over head. Directions to “lower the shoulder blades” appeared to be correct but this never felt quite right. Later, instruction to turn the upper arms by rotating triceps in, or biceps out, helped tremendously and eventually made my own teaching clearer.
One can hear John Schumacher giving a very similar instruction in his Urdhva Hastasana video. Within a Daily Bandha posting by Ray Long (Shoulder Kinematics in Yoga, Pt. 1), the video clearly shows that scapular rotation allows for maximum lift of the upper arm bone, collar bones and ribs. This very same action is also necessary when doing Downward Facing Dog, Full Arm Balance, Upward Wheel and others.
Doug Keller writes much the same and more in the PDF below, Shoulder to Shoulder. Explaining in detail, “When the arms come fully overhead, a slight reversal of direction has to take place: the shoulder blades should slightly depress, posteriorly tilt, and adduct in order to complete the motion to 180 degrees.” Keller precedes this with, “There is some elevation (‘shrugging’) of the shoulders as the arms come overhead, but not during the ‘setting’ phase of flexion and abduction.”
Try it, you’ll like it.