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Bandha Yoga Scientific Keys to Unlock the Practice of Yoga
Scientific Keys
Gomukhasana For Stiff Shoulders

This Scientific Key illustrates some of the shoulder biomechanics in Gomukhasana and some simple steps that can help to increase the range of motion of the lower-side arm through a facilitated stretch of the shoulder external rotators. Please note that persons with certain conditions of the shoulder, including arthritis and instability, should avoid extremes of range of motion (as in Gomukhasana), as this can aggravate their condition. Always, in your particular case, consult your health care provider before practicing yoga or any other exercise program.

Basic science:
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. It is actually a combination of four separate joints: the glenohumeral, acromioclavicular, sternoclavicular and scapulathoracic joints. All four joints contribute to shoulder movement in a “coupled” fashion—that is, movement occurs via a combination of individual joints. Limitation at any of the joints forming the shoulder can impair movement.

This video uses Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana to illustrate the various joints and muscular stabilizers that form the shoulder. For details on the muscles involved, please see Scientific Keys Volume I: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga.

As with all of the articulations in the body, mobility and stability of the shoulder is determined by three factors: the bone shape, the capsuloligamentous structures, and the muscular stabilizers. The majority of shoulder movement is from the glenohumeral joint. This is a shallow ball and socket that is held in place by a capsule with ligaments and a series of muscles.

Limited movement of the shoulders can be caused by a number of factors, including the following:

1. Arthritis (usually affecting the glenohumeral joint);

2. Tight capsuloligamentous structures;

3. Tight muscles.

This Scientific Key focuses the drishti on the lower arm in Gomukhasana and uses a facilitated stretch of the infraspinatus, teres minor, and posterior portion of the deltoid to allow deepening of the pose. A belt connects the upper and lower arms.

  1. 1. Gently drawing the lower arm up the back creates a mild stretch of the infraspinatus, teres minor and posterior deltoid in the lower arm.

  2. 2. Pulling down on the belt while pressing the back of the hand on the lower arm into the back creates an eccentric contraction of the stretching muscles. This activates the Golgi tendon organs of these muscles and creates a “relaxation response” that frees the muscles to lengthen. (For more on the Golgi tendon organ please see “The Key Poses of Hatha Yoga”).

  3. 3. Relaxing the rhomboids frees the scapula to move away from the midline, allowing the lower arm to be drawn further up the back to stretch the target muscles. The hand is then held in place by the upper arm.

    4. The rhomboids then activate to draw the scapula back towards the midline, accentuating the stretch.

These steps are repeated once to deepen the stretch. Do not attempt to attain your maximum in one practice. Rather, build your flexibility over time with consistent, gentle practice.

© 2007 Raymond A. Long MD.

Practice tips:
The key to this technique is to press the back of the hand into the back while drawing down against the belt. Gradually build to a crescendo with the amount of force you use to press the hand into the back and do not exceed 20% of your maximum. This is a facilitated stretch. It works with the Golgi tendon organ to create relaxation of the muscles that are stretching in the lower side shoulder. Use the upper arm to gently draw the lower arm further up the back.

Never force a stretch. If you experience pain during the stretch, stop.

Allow ample time (48 hours) for recovery after all facilitated stretches.

Please note that persons with certain conditions affecting the shoulder should avoid extremes of range of motion. For example, arthritis can be aggravated by such an action. An unstable shoulder can sublux or dislocate from this. Always, in your particular case consult your healthcare provider before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. Always practice yoga under the supervision of a qualified instructor.

If you are new to integrating anatomy into your practice, remember that it is not necessary to memorize this technique on your first pass. Begin by enjoying the beautiful images of the body in yoga. This alone will awaken your brain's awareness of the anatomy during your practice.  Return at a later date for a closer look and then gently go through the motions illustrated above as you practice. Then leave it. Your unconscious mind will create new circuitry while you rest. Enjoy this process and when you return to the mat you will be surprised at how easily you access this technique.


Ray and Chris

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