I love the water. I love paddling. I love yoga. When i get the chance to combine these three ingredients I walk away with an unforgettable recipe each time. This recipe is for creating stability, strength and space in the shoulders.
As we move into the journey of discovering proper alignment of the shoulders, we must first open them up and release built up tensegrity in the shoulder girdle. The most effective exercise for this is what i call flossing the shoulders. Shoulder flossing helps to introduce a wide range of motion into habitually tense and protracted shoulders. My personal practice evolves constantly but shoulder flossing is a constant, always somewhere in the sequence.
Flossing the Shoulders with your Paddle
- Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose), arms parallel to the floor, holding your paddle in front of you with 1 meter distance between your hands.
- Firm the muscles of your legs, activate your core muscles by gently drawing the flesh of the buttocks down, scoop the ribs in towards your spine (out of the front of your shirt), and keep the ears over shoulders (imagine pressing the back of your head into an imaginary wall behind you).
- Maintain that alignment and with your inhalation, bring the paddle overhead. With your exhale lower back down to your thighs. Maintain consistent tension between your hands and you move in the frontal plane. Do this 5 times.
- Next, starting with the paddle in the overhead plane, take a slightly longer stance between hands. With your inhalation isometrically pull your hands apart to create tension, with your exhalation move the paddle back behind you. Next inhalation lift up over head, and exhale back behind you. Do this 5 times. *Be mindful of the tendency to jut ribs forward and head back!
- You are now ready for the full rotation. Realign your body with instructions in step 2. Start with the paddle in front of your thighs. Inhale lift up overhead, exhale, release back behind, inhale lift up overhead, exhale release back to start position. Do this 5 times. This exercise creates a balance between strength and flexibility in the rotator cuff group and i strongly recommend practicing it on a daily basis (can modify at home with a strap/scarf/broomstick, get creative!)
Gomukasana Arms with your Paddle
- Begin in tadasana (mountain pose). Hold the paddle with your right hand, and reach your arm overhead, bringing the paddle behind you.
- Bend the right elbow out to the side as you draw your hand down to your upper back.
- Use your left hand to now hug the right elbow to the midline of your body. Press your elbow up in space as you root your ears over your shoulders and the right shoulder down in line with the left. (Midline=imagine there is an energetic line drawn from the crown of your head down through the space between your heels, as if the spinal cord were extended from head to floor. This energetic cue is meant to tone the inner muscles to support the more delicate and often over-stretched parts of your anatomy). This is Ardha Gomukasana, if you are still looking for more continue to #4.
- Reach your left arm out parallel to the water, palm open. Flip your thumb down, bend your elbow, reaching the back of your hand up your thoracic spine. Grip the paddle.
- As you inhale lengthen from feet to crown. As your exhale, hug your elbows to midline, press your head back and soften your ribs in. The closer the hands get to one another the deeper the stretch. Hold for 5 breaths, then switch to your second side
Transition: Return to Tadasana (mountain pose) and place your paddle along the length of your board off to one side. Inhale reach your arms over head. Exhale, from your hips fold forward. Inhale extend your spine long, crown of the head forward and fingertips to the board, Exhale step back to Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose).
Makarasana (Dolphin Pose)
- From downward facing dog, move to tabletop position (shoulders vertically stack over wrists, hips vertically stack over knees).
- Now plant your elbows down under your shoulders releasing forearms to the board. Interlace your fingers.
- Tuck your toes. Hover your knees for a moment to connect to your core feeling your naval tone in toward your spine.
- With your deep core engaged float your hips toward the sky, sitting bones pointing up to tilt the pelvis and lengthen the spine long.
Transition: Release into balasana (child’s pose) for a few clearing breaths. Then walk your hands in towards your body, send your sitting bones to one side, legs out in front of you in order to now move onto your back.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Little Bridge Pose)
- Bend the knees and stack ankles under kneecaps. Start with your hands 45 degrees away from body (palms up, hands active) and root firmly through the back of the head, blades of the shoulders, and the back of the pelvis).
- Press to the feet and extend the hips to the sky, lifting your heart, broadening your collarbones, yet maintaining slight inner rotation at the thighs to avoid splaying of the knees.
- Variation: Now interlace your hands behind your back rooting firmly through the backs of the arms. Notice the additional vertical lift and enhanced stability. Draw the right knee into your chest while keeping the right hip in line with the left. Press through the back of your head for stability as you extend the right leg towards the sky keeping a firm point to the toes. Hold and breath for 5 breaths. Then switch sides.
Transition: Supta Badha Konasana (lying on your board take your feet together, knees wide apart to clear the hip flexors)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel Pose)
- Set up for Setu Bandha Sarvangasana. IMPORTANT NOTE: As we prepare for your full wheel pose, but note that at NO point will the top of your head touch the board. Your cervical spine is sensitive and the only way to practice this pose safely is to avoid pressure and compression in the spine. If you feel this is not possible for you at this time then continue with your second round of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana and know that you are receiving the same benefits to the heart, lungs and shoulders!
- If you are adding on, position your hands along the sides of your head with fingertips close, heels of the hands away. Root evenly through your palms, finger pads and finger tips.
- Press your shinbones back toward your calves and lift your hips up. Spiral your upper inner thighs down to release your lower back (soften your glutes!)
- Press to your hands and begin to straighten the arms without losing their rotation—outer arms back and in inviting the upper back to broaden.
- Refine: Walk your feet in a few inches toward your hands as you bring your shoulders back so they get closer to stacking over your wrists. Come onto the balls of your feet to help lift the hips. Tilt your tailbone toward your knees to lengthen your lower back. Keep the hips this high, and without changing the height at all, slowly lower your heels, stretching through your Achilles back onto the ground.
- Variation: Draw the right knee into your chest while keeping the right hip in line with the left. Extend the right leg towards the sky keeping a firm point to the toes. Hold and breath for 5 breaths. Then switch sides.
- Release: Draw the chin towards the chest, bending at your elbows to take the back of your head to the board. Lower shoulders, then pelvis and pause for 5 clearing breaths. Feel your vibrancy and vitality here! Take Supta Badha Konasana now for 5 breaths.
Lie on your board. Feel the water beneath you. See the sky above you. Recognize the new space around your shoulders and chest. Close in loving gratitude of everything that has led you to this moment in your life, and in utter excitement for everything that is yet to come.