These past few months I’ve suffered from shoulder impingement syndrome. If you’ve never had it, then consider yourself fortunate. It is the result of misuse and imbalance involving the the rotator cuff muscles and all the push and pull muscles of the shoulder girdle. The shoulders become noisy, clicking and catching, and it’s quite painful if a tendon gets caught between the acromiom and the humerus. If you’re interested, read more about it here. Yoga, especially the Ashtanga Primary Series that I practice, has an abundance of pushing with its 60 pushups, but not nearly as much pulling, or so I thought.
Actually, I think this problem began early in life, and was apparent when I danced. I always had problems with a slight, forward shoulder posture. Back bending poses, like arabesque, were especially difficult. I didn’t have the strength to pull the shoulder blades (scapulae) in and down on the back, extending my thoracic spine into that beautiful, leg-lifting arch. This has been a life-long physical habit that has finally caught up with me.
So, I began to modify my yoga practice, in conjunction with exercises to strengthen my pulling muscles, given to me by Jesse, my physical therapist. The practice was a much less demanding cardiovascular workout without the vinyasa, and doing the postures without using my arms for leverage, as in twisting postures, called upon my underused muscles to get with it! Especially those around my scapulae: subscapularis, rhomboids, and lower trapezius. When I told a yogi friend that I didn’t think Ashtanga had any pulling, he said: “What!? Every time you take a bind you pull.”
That got me thinking. It was true! Standing Hand-to-Toe (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana), Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), Standing Forward Fold (Padangustasana), etc., all lock on to another part of the body. My shoulder girdle was L A Z Y ! I grabbed but didn’t pull. Now, every time I use a toe lock, and other times, I pull my scapulae in and down my back. Twisting has taken on a new dimension, as well, as my thoracic spine has become more flexible with this new strength and awareness.
One of my karate teachers in NC used to say, “If you get lemons, make lemonade!” In martial arts, we learn to make the best of whatever happens. In training drills, your partner may not do what you expect, or you may make a mistake. You just have to go with it, though, defending yourself the best you can with that attack. Absolutely necessary when sparring. Can you imagine a redo in a real attack? “Wait, let’s try that again.” Ha! It takes some improvisational skill; you can’t be too attached to what you expect to happen.
At one time during this past year, I hoped I might become strong enough to finish the Primary Series. Oh, well. Even though I suffered a setback with this shoulder impingement injury, I have gained in wisdom of my yoga practice and of my body. I’ve had to accept the pain and suffering to move beyond it—which is experiencing the yogic concept of tapas, one of the niyamas. (Yoga Sutra 2.43)
Lemonade is always sweeter than lemons are.