Common cues: “pull your shoulder blades down”

You hear it all the time. “Pull the shoulder blades down the spine”. For years I did this, but I felt like I was missing out on some range of motion. Then I watched this video by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (love her!), who developed physiologically-informed movement dubbed Body-Mind Centering. She explains the anatomy of shoulder blade movement and with one sentence changed how I approach lifting and reaching my arms.

Here it is: think of your shoulder blades as a wheel rotating around a pivot point.

Wow. *mind blown*

Here’s a comparison. Shoulder blades pulled down:


Notice the curve in my arms and the width of my upper back as I try to pull down the lateral (outer) part of my shoulder blades down along with the medial part (towards the spine).

Now if I rotate my shoulder blades:


The lateral edge of my shoulder blades are allowed to rotate upwards (to me it feels like a wrapping upward motion towards my front ribs) as the medial part of the shoulder blades come down. My arms are straighter and overall it feels like I’m working with my body, not against it.

Try it! Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with a neutral pelvis (your ASIS and pubic bone are approximately on a vertical plane) and feet hip width apart. Take an inhale and swing both arms in front of you, then up and overhead. Now try the common cue and pull your shoulders down your back as if you had imaginary strings attached to the inferior (bottom) edge of your shoulder blade. Notice how this feels in your shoulders and upper back. Soften the front ribs (i.e. resist the urge to arch your back and puff out your chest), then on an exhale release your arms down by your sides.

Then try it with rotation. Check in with your tadasana. Imagine that your shoulder blade as a rotating piece about a “center of gravity” or pivot point. Then inhale and swing your arms overhead, allowing the the lateral edges of your shoulder blades to swing upwards. Notice how the medial part of the blades naturally glide down. Soften the front ribs. Stay for a few breaths and notice how this feels different than the first way. If you’ve got a full length mirror handy, try both ways again and see the difference.

This perspective shift was a game changer for me; I can’t count how many times I reach my arms overhead or away from by body even in one practice. It’s even helped my handstand practice, taking the forcing out of the tops of my shoulders and gliding into alignment instead.




Aahhhhh! We’re moving!

Just picked up malaria medication for our trip! The countdown is real: 3 days till we move out, 2.5 weeks till we leave Champaign, IL for good, and 8 weeks till we leave the US of A!

So many changes happening now: packing up the things we need and shedding the things we don’t, scouring the web for daily costs at each country (and we’ve got quite a list: Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Italy, Myanmar to name a few), beginning the process of eventually moving to Europe: deciding which country makes the most sense, where can we find jobs, and don’t even get me started on work visas…it’s all exciting and stressful and scary and — what I try to tell myself — fun.

My partner M has been immensely supportive when I start freaking out about the future. He reminds me that I’ll only experience this moment once. Isn’t there a yoga sutra about this?

Ah, how about the first one? Atha yoga anushasanam: yoga is now. Today, I’m reminded to be present and not let fear rule my perspective. Much like working on a difficult pose on the mat, working on letting go of incessant (non-helpful) thoughts is yoga off the mat.

I leave you with this Buddhist temple that I came across on a hike outside of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia back in 2013. It was tucked away, bathed in the silence of the forest surrounding it. For me it’s a reminder of being present, and letting the little mysteries of life unravel on the path I’ve chosen to take 🙂


The Personality Myth

This weekend, driving home to visit my family in Ann Arbor, MI, I listened to a podcast that really resonated with me. It was an episode of Invisibilia, an NPR podcast about human behavior — what goes on behind the scenes that drive us to do what we do. In yoga, it is similar to looking inward during our practice. This episode was called The Personality Myth, and they asked this question: is there really such thing as personality? That is, are there enduring qualities of a person that remain unchanged for life?

I won’t give away the details of the episode, but the example they used in their story moved and compelled  me. It changed the way I think about people. Instead of thinking that people are tethered to their personality, i.e. “Well that’s just who they are,” I see great potential once we recognize just how much we are able to change and grow. Yes, we are born with a set of physical limitations, with mental and emotional foundations based on our genes and cultural upbringing. But that doesn’t mean we are stuck with certain personality traits for life.

The key to change? Understanding yourself! Meditation is a great way to understand your samskaras, or thought patterns. By taking time to look within, you can begin to untangle these “traits” and recognize parts of you that aren’t really part of you at all, but perhaps a reaction or a defense to your past experiences or what you’ve been taught. Then, freedom is yours! Create an intention, or sankalpa, to try something new. YOU get to choose who you want to be! How cool is that? 😎

image credit: Kristen Uroda for NPR