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5 Ways to Individualize Your Yoga Practice to Keep Your Shoulders Safe

Though I teach mostly private yoga classes, I love going to group classes when I have the time. The feeling of community and the energy of practicing together can feel really great. But lately, I feel more tension and soreness in my shoulders (I've been looking at a computer screen more in order to write blog posts {yay!} and I've been boxing, too). So whenever I go to a group class, I modify my practice to keep my shoulders pain-free and safe. Below are some of my tips for individualizing the practice to keep the shoulders pain-free.

1. Do a Different Arm Variation

In yoga, there are a lot of poses that require your arms to be in the overhead position. Whether you are lifting weights, working the front body a lot, have rounded shoulders or just practicing a lot of yoga, you may start to experience some discomfort, tightness or pain when you take your arms overhead. If that's the case, feel free to take a different variation like taking the arms by your sides, back behind you, interlacing your fingers behind you or even taking a bind.

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2. Skip Those Chaturangas

Speaking of working the front body a lot, chaturangas work a lot of muscles on the front of the torso and can exaggerate rounded shoulders, thereby contributing to pain when you take your arms overhead. So if you are feeling that tightness as you lift your arms or if you feel your are developing rounded shoulders, feel free to skip the chaturangas.

3. Extend the Arms More to Balance Out All the Flexion

Like I mentioned above, in yoga we take the arms overhead (in flexion) quite a bit and over time, this can create an imbalance. You can prevent the development of shoulder pain by taking your arms back behind your whenever possible or incorporating more reverse tabletop variations. If you are skipping the chaturangas, this may be a good time to bring these into your practice.

4. Use a Wall, Chair or Any Other Prop for Support

We often use our arms for balance or weight-bearing in yoga, but when you are dealing with pain or, especially, injury it's great to make sure that we have what we need to rest our arms and not fall over. By using a wall in poses like high lunge or any transitions between standing poses, you can keep your arms rested and relaxed while still keeping your balance. Tip: ask your instructor for a chair - many studios will have them on hand.

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5. Outwardly (Laterally) Rotate Your Arms Before You Lift Them Up

When you take your arms up with your palms facing each other, there is a bump (the greater tubercle) on the head of the humerus (arm bone) that can bump into the acromion process (part of the scapula). By turning our palms to face up before we take the arms up overhead, we can move the greater tubercle out of the way so there is more clearance and less chance of shoudler impingement.

I hope you enjoyed my tips on how I individualize my group practice to keep my shoulders safe and pain-free. Let me know what you think of these tips by writing in the comments below.