“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Use Your Shoulders to Deepen Uttanasana

In Uttanasana, fix the hands onto the mat and attempt to drag them forward. This contracts the anterior deltoids and draws the upper body deeper into the pose. If you can’t reach the floor, grasp the lower legs or backs of the knees and attempt to pull the hands forward. Activating the anterior deltoids with the hands fixed in place connects the upper appendicular skeleton (the arms and shoulder girdles) to the lower appendicular skeleton (the lower legs and hips). In a forward bend, engaging the anterior deltoids in this manner stretches the posterior kinetic chain, including the hamstrings.

stretching posterior kinetic chain in uttanasana
Uttanasana illustrating the anterior deltoids
 and quadriceps contracting to
stretch the posterior kinetic chain

The deltoids are large muscles on the surface of the shoulders that produce many of the major movements about this joint. They are divided into three parts—the anterior, middle, and posterior thirds. The anterior portion originates from the front part of the clavicle (collarbone) and the acromion process and inserts onto the outside of the upper humerus. The main action of the anterior deltoids is to raise the arms in front of the body.


At the same time you are contracting the anterior deltoids to draw the trunk forward, engage the quadriceps to straighten the knees. A cue for activating the quads is to lift the kneecaps towards the pelvis. In addition to straightening the knees, this signals the antagonist hamstring muscles to relax into the stretch through reciprocal inhibition. To better understand this physiological mechanism, try doing Uttanasana with and without firming the thighs. Note how the sensation of the stretch changes when you engage the quads.



rectus femoris in uttanasana forward bend
The rectus femoris drawing
the pelvis forward.

One head of the quadriceps, the rectus femoris, originates from the front of the pelvis and crosses the hip joint. When we activate the quads to straighten the knees, the rectus femoris adds a forward tilt of the pelvis, further deepening the pose.

Once you get the hang of using the anterior deltoids to deepen Uttanasana, try this technique in Paschimottanasana. Do this by grasping the feet or lower legs to fix the hands and then try to lift upward. Once again, this activates the anterior deltoids and draws the trunk deeper into flexion. 

Always go slowly and gradually with all muscle engagement in yoga. Use minimal contractions to get a feel for refining the pose. If you have any discomfort or pain, bend the knees and carefully come out of the asana and rest. Always practice under the guidance of a qualified instructor and make sure you are cleared medically by your healthcare provider for yoga and any other exercise program.

Stay tuned for the next blog post, when we'll talk about how to use the tensor fascia lata and gluteus medius muscles to further refine Uttanasana. Also, feel free to browse through our new book series at the right side of this page and learn more.

Namasté
Ray and Chris

19 comments:

  1. LOVE this - thanks for all you do - I have all of your books and teach your concepts to students and teachers at my studio - huge fan. Keep it coming...

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  2. I agree! We use your books in our RYT200 program...
    Love the new blog...

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  3. the clarity of both the text and the imagery is incredible; i truly feel i am beginning to understand some of this, and this has made me very hopeful ;-) thank you!

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  4. I love this program so much. It is an essential part of my practice and teaching. Just ordered the 4th Yoga Mat companions, can't wait to receive them!
    THANK YOU for your great work!

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  5. This is great information. I have your books but delivered in bite sized chunks like this - very helpful! Thank you.

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  6. yes, this is great. thank you!
    m. fagan

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  7. Thank YOU ! I love your books, and I am waiting for the new batch I ordered through amazon, as I want to bring one to my friend in... India !

    Merci, j'aime la clarté de vos livres, et j'attends avec impatience ma commande des 4 petits nouveaux, car je veux les offrir à mon amie en Inde !

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  8. Hi Ray,

    Great work bring to light the anatomical concepts. I have a concern, however, that you are giving these instructions to the general public without pointing out the risks.

    The Pelvis you are showing is in 120° of flexion more or less and the abdomen and quads hitting each other works as a good mechanical stop, but with a tighter person capable of only 90° or less this manuevre would put considerable strain on the lower lumber discs. That body type of practitioner who is also an overachiever should definitely learn some strong contractions of the Transverse Abdomonis in order to mitigate this strain. As well as understand what the risks to "deeper" could be.

    Perhaps a dose of cautionary advise would be good since you aren't necessarily aware of the level of who will read this?

    Excellent books nonetheless.

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  9. Hi Byron. Thanks for your well thought-out cautions. I’m breaking down the muscle groups and will go over the protective effects of engaging the abdominals in a future post. This is excellent advice, much appreciated.
    Namasté,
    Ray

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  10. Thanks for the feedback, everyone!
    Adan: Stick with it; you’ll get it!
    Yoga de la voix: Have a great trip to India!

    Namasté,
    Ray and Chris

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  11. This is really good advice, easy to understand, and do. A plus for my beginners who get hung up on touching the floor or going deeper, faster. This helps me explain the process and provide verbal instructions to keep their minds involved in the process, besides just grabbing thighs and hauling themselves over. As always, great advice!

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  12. Thanks for your post, Sue! Feel free to page through our books on the right-hand side of the blog. They're full of these types of instructions.
    Namasté,
    Ray and Chris

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  13. Hi guys, i love your blog. i get a few different yoga emails/newsletters and i have to say this is the only one i ready from start to finish and over again! its great, the information is clear and easy to understand and something that i can take back into the yoga class. Keep up the great work!

    Thanks Rachel

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  14. Hi DailyBandha,

    As an ex professional dancer and yoga teacher in training i am finding your books and blogs a revelation. I was never taught anatomy or biomechanics as a young dancer training and it is still not very common today. For stretching it was always just grit your teeth and bare it, eventually you will get there, leading to a few injuries that continued with me through my professional career. The information i am learning through your books is just amazing and i cant wait to share it with all my dance students.

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  15. Thanks so much for your wonderful work, I use your first 2 them for my teacher training and your daily tips like this are really focusing.
    I will order the latest 4 books, I cannot miss them.
    shanti Angela

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  16. I have all of the books and must admit, the information can be somewhat overwhelming in sheer scope of the subject matter. Having these smaller profiles (here) helps to explain/underline concepts in the books and are very beneficial. I have recently begun incorporating theses ideas into my personal practice: the focus improves posture, concentration and awareness. When I can let go of the words and just zero in on the muscles/motions, the meditative aspects of practice are deepened as well as the physical. I look forward to introducing my students to your work. Wonderful, thanks.

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  17. Draco9946,
    This is exactly the way to approach the work and how I use it in my own practice. It’s absolutely true that working with the muscles creates a cognitive shift into a meditative state with the asanas. Thanks so much for your insightful comment—it is music to my ears.
    Namasté,
    Ray

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  18. Bernadette FrischkornJanuary 26, 2011 at 2:48 AM

    I think I've got it!
    I've been playing with this concept for about a week. I've been wondering why using my anterior deltoids affects the lengthening of my back. So, I tried in forward fold many times. Then I tried in seated forward fold etc. Today in happy baby's pose it hit me: The anterior deltoid is connected to the humerous and the collarbone. In a bizarre fashion, it is a lever. The fulcrum is the shoulder joint. When I pull on one end of the a.deltoid, the other is lifted. This motion in the front opens my heart. When I am folded over, the heart opens to the rear and voila- my back lengthens. COOL!

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  19. Hi Bernadette,

    That is exactly right! It is like a lever. Thanks for your comment--stay in touch and keep me posted on how this stuff works for you.

    Namaste'

    Ray

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