The spine strengthening series has always been challenging for me. Instead of isolating the muscles of my back I have been cheating — using my leg strength, especially in Locust Pose. But the other day, I had a bit of a breakthrough. I finally heard the words of the dialogue that talked about shifting your weight forward. The teacher must have elaborated on this theme or maybe I just finally heard it, but something clicked. I was able to isolate and use my back muscles. Boy, did that feel different.
As the teacher explained, the key to Locust Post — all three parts — is in the shoulders. Pushing your shoulders onto the mat and using your hands to create leverage against the floor forces you to use the muscles of your back. This is challenging for me, because my shoulders and chest are very tight. I need to really shift my weight forward to get my shoulders to touch. But when I move slowly into the posture, I can do it.
It is important to shift the weight forward and press your shoulders and hands down BEFORE you lift your legs — otherwise the leg muscles will take over. My legs do not reach nearly the same height as they did during my “cheating” days, but I feel the benefits are greater. I am excited for this breakthrough.
I also discovered that the position of the shoulders is important for the other spine strengthening postures. In Cobra Pose, the shoulders must stay down to activate the lower back muscles and the proper back bend. In Full Locust, they must stay level with the arms elevated, even as the shoulder blades remain relaxed and down, once again activating the muscles of the back. And in Bow Pose, the key is to relax the shoulders, letting them be guided back by the strength of the kick. In all cases, focusing on the proper placement of the shoulders forces the back muscles to do the work. It is harder, but the result is better.
This got me thinking about my shoulders in general. Keeping the shoulders back and down is a common refrain in almost every posture — even Savasna! I realized I have been ignoring my shoulder position throughout class, letting my stronger leg muscles and core bail me out in several postures. In fact, my most common correction in the standing series is to lower my shoulders away from my ears.
I am making my shoulders a focus of my practice for the next several months. Back and down will be my mantra. Let’s hope my spine will emerge happier and more supportive of a happy life!
Fellow yogis, what tips do you have for the spine strengthening series?