What’s Happening In the Shoulders In Prasarita Padottanasana C?

February 7, 2023

Transcript of: What’s happening in the shoulders in prasarita padottanasana C?

Hey everybody! Welcome to this month’s question of the month. As you know if you’ve got a question, you can have me answer it by going to yoganatomy.com/myquestion. This month’s question comes from Emilia G and it’s about the shoulders in prasarita padottanasana C.

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The Question:

Hi David. I have a question about the shoulder joint in prasarita padottanasana C. [DK: That’s my favorite shoulder joint-related posture!] I had some teachers who were telling me that my palms should touch throughout the pose, from the standing to the folding forward, and during the state of the pose. It’s quite easy doing it while standing, but as I fold forward, I feel that my shoulder blades are blocking the way. Therefore it feels more comfortable setting my palms apart, with the fingers intertwined. I was wondering what exactly is happening in the shoulder joint during this posture. What facilitates (or restricts) the palms to touch while folding forward? And is it even a relevant instruction for this posture?
Thanks in advance!

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The Answer:

That’s a really good question, Emilia. I just made a little comment about the shoulders in prasarita C as my favorite shoulder posture kind of thing. That’s because it’s a little bit of a pet peeve for me. The instruction that your hands are supposed to touch the floor, or the adjustments that come that bring people’s hands to the floor, are all a little bit suspect.

Since you’re doing this version of it, I’m assuming you’re an Ashtangi. And if you look in the books of Sharath doing prasarita padottanasana C, you’ll see that his hands are not touching the floor. Sure, it’s a worthy goal. Like most postures, we have some intention in mind. It’s not a goal as a final destination, but an ideal version of it that we’re trying to move towards. That’s how we direct our intention, our focus, our energy, etc. So, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The hand positions have also changed over the years. This is the easiest, with the palms facing the body. (I’m not going to do it behind me.) And there’s the hands-clasped version, which is a little bit harder. And I know you’re asking about the anatomy of these, so I’ll go through them. And then the final one is when you rotate and you go this way, which would be the hardest.

The anatomy

The shoulder joint

There are a couple of things to keep in mind. One, there is variety in shoulder joints and flexibility. That is both in terms of the musculature itself as well as the shape of the socket—the way the bump on the end, the acromion, comes out, and how the humerus meets all of that. Okay, there’s that.

The shoulder blades and movement

And then of course there are the shoulder blades which are also functional. They move. So, when we take our hands behind our back, we’re doing an internal rotation. The humerus is rotating internally for our hand to go behind our back. And then you have degrees of that rotation as well as the tension that is placed, some of it on biceps, believe it or not. The biceps tendon is a flexor of the shoulder joint. We know it for bending the elbow of course, but it’s also a flexor of the shoulder joint. So some of the pressure is there.

Some of the pressure is on the deltoids as well in the front. When we take our arm behind our back, we’re just going to have pressure going that way. Our experience of the shoulders in prasarita padottanasana C depends on how much mobility we have in our shoulder joints. If we’ve built up a lot of strength in our upper body, we might have a tight pectoralis major. And that then might restrict our shoulder blade from being able to move back with it, which would reduce some of that stress.

Mobility of the shoulder girdle

So, what I’m getting at here is that the shoulder girdle is highly mobile. There’s the shoulder joint where the humerus meets the scapula. And then there’s the scapula which is attached to the clavicle. And the clavicle is attached to the sternum that is mostly free and held in place by tissue. And what we’re doing with the shoulders in prasarita C is we’re combining the movements of both of these together. And that makes it a little bit more complex in terms of ferreting out what the real restriction is. But it’s increasing—I was going to say intensity—of the internal rotation. I’m always careful when I say words like intensity. It’s not a bad thing. It’s the degree of internal rotation, and therefore of flexibility, required or the degree of resistance that we get from the tissues.

So, when you start folding forward—this is one of the bigger parts of folding forward when you say your shoulder blades are blocking. As we round forward, it tends to bring our shoulders forward. And so it’s difficult to be rounded forward and—particularly pay attention to how much you’re rounding your spine in a posture like prasarita. Right?

Goals and intentions in prasarita C

The other goal that everyone seems to have is the idea that you should touch your head to the floor. So if you have that idea that you should touch your head to the floor and then you should bring your hands to the floor and combine those two together—if you do that, you end up with a rounded spine, which then as you do this, it’s harder to do this at the same time. I mean you could just try it sitting there. You know, round this and then try to pull this back versus sitting up tall and then doing this. So that’s usually where that feeling of the shoulder blades being blocked comes from in this pose. That’s me not watching you and not seeing how you’re doing it. That’s a generality.

Variations on the hands and shoulders in prasarita C

I look at this as the easiest version. So if I had a beginner with tight shoulders, I’d just make them do this for a while. And then I would move them on to this one. Right? It’s going to reduce the space between the shoulders. And it’s going to put more pressure on the front of the shoulder, which the idea is to open tissues. So, there’s nothing wrong with any of these. I look at them as progressive, starting here, moving here, and then this being the final one, which is the most difficult.

And my personal theory is, because it used to be like this and like this—look at the old pictures—and then it turned into this one. So I think too many people were putting their hands on the floor so they made it progressively more difficult. That’s my sense of it. Oh, you can do that and easily touch the floor? Then try this way. Oh, you can do that and touch the floor, then try this one. Then there’s nothing left to do after that. Okay? They’re just variations.

Alright! I hope this helps. I hope that gave you some stuff to think about, particularly this one is my guess, based on what you wrote. If you’ve got a question—anybody else out there—if you’ve got a question, then go to yoganatomy.com/myquestion and I’ll answer it on video. And don’t forget to subscribe to my channel!