So, I've been posting up for months about my Yoga for Shoulders classes and video. You may be wondering why I teach Yoga for Shoulders and if it's appropriate for you. So here is my story, some info on shoulder injuries, and how you can and can't use yoga to heal:
Yoga for Shoulders—7 Steps to Healing and Preventing Sports Injuries
As a whitewater athlete, I’ve had my share of shoulder injuries over the years. During my first couple of injuries, I was in my yoga teacher training and healed up pretty quickly; or so it seemed. As I got older, I developed chronic pain in my shoulder. I thought that I would just need to get used to the pain—I was an extreme athlete, and pain was par for the course, right? Then I began studying yoga therapy and playing around with some different yoga techniques. To my amazement, pain that I'd had in my shoulder for seven years went away in about two weeks with the right exercises. As the pain faded, I gained a safe range of motion that I never thought possible, and my strength increased. Now I can do all kinds of things that I had been told that I would never do again without surgery. My yoga practice and paddling are thriving, and my athletic life is opening up to new possibilities every day.
Inspired by my healing, I began educating myself further so that I could help other injured athletes use yoga to gain more freedom and strength in their bodies. For several years, I immersed myself in more therapy based yoga teacher training, and I taught yoga classes to people with shoulder injuries. Through the process, I discovered what shoulder problems are common in active people and what should be done in order to heal through yoga practice.
Generally, active people's shoulders become injured because of trauma–such as a dislocation and/or repetitive motion and posture–such as kayaking or riding a bike. Obviously, after trauma, an injury needs healing time. If you experience pain in the following months or years, the injury has become chronic. Bodily imbalances then develop that are often similar to repetitive motion injury. Either way, the typical scenario is that the arm bone tends to move forward in the socket due to muscular imbalances. As the arm bone rolls forward, it causes the opening between the arm bone, the collarbone, and the shoulder blade to become smaller until it pinches on important stabilizing tendons causing pain and swelling. Further, when pinched, the tendons are cut off from the muscles causing instability in the shoulder. The symptoms of this are weakness and burning in the front and back of the shoulder and feeling as if your arm might come off as you reach for the shampoo bottle in the shower.
If you exercise and push through these pain sensations, go ahead and make an appointment with your orthopedist for surgery. The exercise will speed up the injury process, and you'll need surgery pretty soon. Think of a rope moving back and forth between sharp rocks. What will eventually happen? By pushing through pain sensations in your shoulder while working out or doing yoga, you’re causing damage—pain and swelling are your body's signal. If you truly want to heal, you have to learn to listen to your body's pain signals and work within a pain-free range of motion, or you will be in pain and injured forever.
So, what should you do to heal or prevent this kind of injury? These are the steps that I take using yoga as therapy to help someone heal from a shoulder injury, heal after surgery, and to prevent shoulder problems:
1. Breathing—learning to fully breathe in a relaxed body is the base of a yoga practice.
2. Bandhas--energy locks in the body, some of which create necessary core stability for yoga poses.
3. Releasing the fronts of the shoulders. This is stretching–kind of. I like to think of it as releasing—you are gently returning your body to its natural state.
4. Movement in the shoulder blades–your shoulder joint is actually only as mobile as your shoulder blades.
5. Standing poses—learning to move your whole body in a pain free range of motion.
6. Building core strength—not only strengthening your abs, but also your spine and shoulder blades.
7. Weight bearing poses on the shoulders—a culmination of all the previous techniques, learning to balance effort and ease in the body by moving through poses that develop balanced strength.
Can you get this from attending your local yoga studio? Maybe, but probably not in a general class setting. I've been in some classes where the teacher helped me tremendously. But in some classes, when I was moving improperly and making my shoulder worse, no one ever corrected me. Also, there are many poses done in general yoga classes that are not appropriate for athletes with shoulder injuries; some common poses will actually weaken injured shoulders. If you are an athlete with shoulder problems, you should make a private appointment with a yoga teacher who is trained and experienced in shoulder therapy for athletes. After you are healed and understand your injury, you will be free to go to any sort of yoga classes!
What about doing yoga on your own to heal your shoulder? That’s okay as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don't, seek help–or you may never get to do your beloved activity again! A home yoga practice is good as long as it's tailored to your shoulder injury. You can use a video as a guide, but make sure it's okay for your injury. If you are going it alone, my advice is to always move slowly while you exercise and pay attention to your alignment. If you get pain and pinching, stop doing what you are doing and work within a pain free range of motion.
A path to healing is never quick and easy, but if you want to play hard, it's essential. So, take the time and a little extra effort (and ease!) to get out of the pain and injury cycle and discover the amazing rewards of your accomplishment. May your shoulders be free!