Essential Yoga Body Parts

Scapula and Yoga

Posted on 2019-01-23

The scapula is commonly called the shoulder blade and is a flat triangular bone. Together with the clavicle and the sternum, the scapula forms part of the shoulder girdle, which attaches the appendicular skeleton (the limbs) to the axial skeleton (the trunk). 

The scapula is at the back of the trunk. You can quickly feel it if you bend your elbow and bring your hand to your upper back. That boney part sticking out is your scapula and covers the posterior surface of ribs two to seven. A significance of the scapula is that it is a connection point for several arm and shoulder muscles. The shoulder blade is not directly attached to the axial skeleton but is connected to the thorax and vertebral column by some muscles. Because it is not directly linked to the trunk, it can move freely, which means you can change the position of your scapula while keeping your torso still. 

The scapula does not obstruct the movement of the arm. (Britannica, n.d.)

Scapula Injuries

Scapula injuries are common in fitness because of their anatomical structure and joint mechanics. The most common causes of damage include trauma, overuse, or scapular dyskinesis.

Scapular dyskinesis is when an imbalance influences the shoulder blade's position and movement in relation to the shoulder joint. Familiar poses that can cause scapular dyskinesis involve overhead reaching (shoulder flexion), for example, the downward-facing dog, upward salute, and chair pose. 

Yoga postures that involve extending the arms to the sides or front can also result in scapular dyskinesis, for example, extended hand to big toe posture. The risk for scapular dyskinesis doesn't mean you have to refrain from doing these poses. Still, you should maintain a proper humeral rhythm (movement of the scapula) to ensure that your shoulder blade and the joint are safe and stable.

Understanding the anatomy and biomechanical movements of the shoulder joint while you do yoga can also help. The interaction between the shoulder blade and the arm bone in the movement of the shoulder should also be taken into account to ensure scapular stability when practicing yoga and enhancing postures. 

Shoulder Movement

Scapulothoracic Joint

The Scapulothoracic joint is not a true joint. It's more of an articulation between the scapula and thorax. Together with the  Acromioclavicular (AC) and Sternoclavicular (SC) joints, it allows movement of the scapula in six different directions.

  • Elevation and depression.
  • Protraction and retraction.
  • Upward and Downward Rotation.

Elevation and Depression

Scapular depression and elevation refer to movements involving the shoulders' upward and downward movement. Elevation brings your shoulders up to your ears, using your upper traps to lift the scapula. Depression pulls the shoulder down towards the hips, using the lower traps. Think about the upward-facing dog. You depress the scapula to pull the shoulders down.

Protraction and Retraction

Scapular retraction and protraction involve another degree of movement of the shoulder blades. When you draw your shoulder blades together, it's a retraction, and when they are apart, it's a protraction. With protraction, you can think about cat pose or plank. You want to pull the shoulder blades away from each other. For retraction, think about the cobra pose, lifting the chest as the shoulder blades draw in to touch.

Upward and Downward Rotation

Upward rotation is a shoulder blade movement which is a forward rotation when you lift your arm over your head and downward rotation when you bring your arms down by your side. These two movements are repetitive during the first part of Sun Salutations, inhaling arms over the head (urdhva hastasana) and exhaling arms down by your side.

Joints Surrounding the Scapula

Joints Surrounding the Scapula

Glenohumeral Joint

The glenohumeral joint is a shallow, semi-ball socket joint that accommodates the head of the humerus in the socket. A cartilaginous labrum keeps the glenohumeral joint in place. Furthermore, muscular tissue surrounds, supports, and stabilizes the joint, and that creates movement. 

Sternoclavicular Joint

Where the clavicle meets the sternum at the base of the neck.

Acromioclavicular Joint

This joint connects the clavicle, also called the collarbone, with the shoulder blade. If you move your hand along your collarbone from your sternum to the tip of your shoulder, you will locate your acromioclavicular joint. Incorrect shoulder positioning during repetitive activities can result in tendonitis in the vicinity of this joint. Impingement and tendonitis can also result from downward sloping acromion that wears down the delicate connective tissues. Other common problems resulting from improper shoulder positioning and downward sloping acromion include inflammation, irritation, and tissue damage. (Sciasca, 2017)

Check your range of motion and try these movements in the Hatha yoga class - Shoulder Love

Scapular Stability

While many muscles give shoulder stability, there are three major ones. 

  • Serratus anterior muscle; attaches from the ribcage to the outer border of the scapula. Its function is to protract your shoulder blades (move them away from each other)—for example, cat pose.
  • The rhomboid muscle; attaches from the spine to the inner borders of the scapula. Its function is to retract (pull together) your shoulder blades—for example, in cobra or camel pose.
  • The trapezius muscle; is a big muscle on our back, and it has three different parts. Upper fibers elevate the scapula (shoulders to ears). Middle fibers retract the scapula (shoulder blades in). Lower fibers depress the scapula (shoulder down to away from the ears)

Yoga for Shoulder Strength

If you have a shoulder injury from a damaged joint, you don't have to stop practicing yoga altogether. Although building strength around the joint is a priority, you should first work on perfecting your alignment. 

Consider your shoulder position in every pose (elevation, depression, protraction, retraction, upward and downward rotation) and start each posture by widening your collarbones to prevent yourself from rounding forward in the front of the shoulders, allowing the rotator cuff to activate and keep the shoulder on the correct position. 

These precautions may feel unnatural at first, but as you perfect your alignment, you will prevent further strains and open the door for further yoga practice development. 

Checking your alignment can be difficult if you don't practice yoga in front of a mirror, as you won't know the position of your shoulders. You may also be in the habit of slouching, which can be inherently risky, especially with weight-bearing asanas. A great way to know where you are in space is to film yourself at home during practice. This will allow you to see where you lack the strength to keep your shoulders in a good position.

The first step in shoulder alignment is to master basic poses like Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute.) After getting your shoulder alignment right with these poses, you can move forward with overhead arm reaching like planking, the downward-facing dog, and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand.)

When you do basic poses, lift your shoulders to the point where they line up with the base of your neck. At the same time, pull the heads of the arm bones backward. Also, there should be a slight curve in the back of your neck. 

When your chest rises, refrain from pulling your scapulas together and compressing your spine. Keep the lower points of your shoulder blades pressing into your back and apart. When you do the overhead reaching poses, you should apply the same basic principles of shoulder alignment. 

When you do asanas that involve overhead reaching, you should rotate your arm bones externally and elevate your shoulder blades slightly. Doing so will strengthen the muscles on the back of the infraspinatus and take a load off the supraspinatus, which can get pinched between the scapula and the head of the arm bone. (Keleher, n.d.)

Yoga Poses for Scapula

Plank Pose

This posture will help you strengthen your serratus anterior as you protract (move away from each other) your shoulders at the top of your plank.

Start on all fours, then move your knees slightly back from your hips. Wrists underneath your shoulders push the floor away from you as you feel the scapula move out to the sides of your back. Hold that for a few breaths, or lift the knees off the floor if this variation feels easy.

Plank pose yoga strengthening for scapula

Upward Plank Pose

The upward plank pose stretches the anterior deltoids, pectoralis minor, and pectoralis major and works against the effects of Chaturanga. 
To do this pose, sit in staff pose with your knees bent, the soles of your feet flat on the floor, and your hands about fifteen inches behind you with your palms on the floor and your fingers facing your feet. 

As you exhale, lift yourself into the tabletop position. Straighten each of your legs and raise your hips higher, engaging your buttocks. Lift your chest as high as possible and drop your neck back. 


revolved abdomen pose

Revolved Abdomen Pose

Lie on your back and assume the cactus pose. Bend your knees and lift your feet until your knees are directly above your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor. 

Throughout the pose, keep your shoulder and arms against the floor. As you exhale, lower your knees to the right and try to have them reach the floor. As you lower your knees to the side, concentrate on keeping your shoulders against the floor. While you inhale, bring your legs back to the center and repeat the process to your left. 

Repeat this process five to ten times on each side. This pose is safe during shoulder recovery as the floor provides sufficient support. 

You will find more yoga anatomy about the body parts we are using in yoga in the category of essential yoga body parts. 

Work Cited

Britannica, E. (n.d.). Scapula

Keleher, N. (n.d.). Scapular Awareness Exercises

Sciascia, A. D. (2017, March). Scapular (Shoulder Blade) Disorders

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