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A yogi looks at the shoulder girdle

The shoulder girdle is truly a remarkable aspect of the human body. Built for versatility and function the shoulder girdle, provides the body with dexterity, strength, flexibility, range of motion, and unique function ability.




In a way, its much like a Rube Goldberg invention, featuring a series of simple purposes, connected together to make or perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way. Usually, his machines consist of a series of simple unrelated devices; the action of each triggers the initiation of the next, eventually resulting in achieving a stated goal. If you include yours arms and hands in the description, the shoulder girdle creates one of the most complicated structures in the body. Similarly, through several unique connections, our shoulder girdle allows us to throw a baseball 90 miles an hour, allows us to swim, coordinates our walking, pick fruit from the highest branch and cradle a baby in our arms With the arms and hands, the shoulder girdle creates endless functional possibilities from playing piano to making tools, to praying.



Shoulder Girdle described


Like a Rube Goldberg cartoon, the shoulder girdle is simple, yet complicated. Basically, it consists of two sets of bones: the clavicle in the front and the shoulder blades in the back.

That is the shoulder girdle at its core. From here we attach the arm bones to the shoulder girdle, allowing the girdle to function as the anchor for the arms. Interestingly, in the front, the clavicles attach to the manubrium of first rib joint above the sternum and in the back there is actually a gap between the scapula’s, a necessary space providing maximum range of motion. This then means that, and this is amazing, the arms are attached to the skeleton at only at this juncture on the body.


Now we can see this joint as a royal crown, fitting beautifully, over the top of the rib cage from where it can glide smoothly, giving the arms 360-degree range of motion (ROM).


There are principally three joints in the shoulder girdle.


  • Acromioclavicular - between the acromion of the scapula and the lateral end of the clavicle

  • This is where the scapula meets the clavicle

  • Sternoclavicular - between the manubrium of the sternum and the first costal cartila

  • This is where the clavicle meets the rib cage

  • Glenohumeral - between the head of the humerus and the glenoid fossa of the scapula

  • This is where the arm meets the shoulder

Together the three joints allow us to raise, lower, and rotate our arm bones as well as to move the shoulder blades on and off the back. these boney connections, or joints are supported by

ligaments. Ligaments are tough, fibrous tissue which bind one bone to another, and, the the other hand, and keep bones apart on the other . While they are designed to allow movement, their main job is to stabilize and support the joint.





Why is it so important


The shoulder girdle is also designed to act as the connection between the arms and the spine, the shoulder girdle provides both delicate strength and immense stability. It also enables emotion to be transmitted into action; stability into strength, power and endurance. Emotionally, the shoulder girdle is part of a chain of events responsible for hugging, squeezing, reaching out and grasping. In this way it has significant connections to the heart. Simply by its postural position, the shoulder girdle can express pain, depression, suppression, shock, openness, receptivity, willingness, and/or comfort with one’s own personal power.


In the physical exercise, the shoulder girdle has a similar role transmitting and transforming energy by impacting our ability to raise the arms overhead or out to the sides as in Mountain Pose or in front as in plank.



Yogi point of view


From a yogi perspective the shoulder girdle is immensely important. Take Tadasana (mountain pose) for example. One of the last “setting” adjustments is to move the scapulae toward each other and down the back. That simple adjustment rolls the shoulders back and down as it opens the chest. It brings the center of gravity over the hips. Same is true for Trikonanasana (Triangle pose) Virabhadrasana (warrior pose). One of the final adjustments we make in these poses is the “setting” of the shoulder blades, completing the pose. Things really get interesting in inverted poses. The setting” of the shoulder blades in Sirsasana (head stand) also has the effect of stabilizing the pose as well as countering the loading of the weight onto the neck.



Aging and aliments


Because of the Rube Goldberg nature of the shoulder girdle and the relative lack of stability, the shoulders are subject to injury. Injuries such as Frozen shoulder, dislocation, fractures, and separations are common, often debilitating and painful. Perhaps the most common ailment of the shoulder however, is related to aging. It is the slow and methodical movement into the ‘senile posture’. This ailment is caused by lack of strength and tonality as the shoulders begin to roll forward while the back begins to roll and soften. Brought on by slouching, the muscles of the front of the shoulder, specifically the bicep brachialis, pectoralis minor, and the serratus anterior tighten. Muscles of the back shoulder, including teres minor, teres major and the infraspinatus, lengthen while losing strength. Over time this condition aggravates, pulling more muscles out of tonal balance. Over time Fusion in the shoulder joints occures, exacerbating the condition.


The shoulder girdle is very important in the functioning of the arms and the hands. In order to use your hands efficiently, you need to have strong, stable shoulders for your to work off of.

The shoulder is also the body’s most mobile joint. Unfortunately, the more mobile a joint, the less stable; and the less stable a joint, the greater the risk for injury.


What the Tortuga Program encourages is awareness and fitness to the Shoulder Girdle. A series of movements isolating the scapula and the arms brings tonal balance to the shoulders. Conversely, gives the front muscles back into tonal balance between contraction and expansion it gives the back muscles balance creating strength and flexibility. . Rolling back the shoulders for example, has many positive aspects to the human body. While it widens and lifts the collar bones, it opens the chest for improved breathing and heart function. It lengthens the spinal column upward, making you taller and giving you a more youthful appearance. It also helps bring the head slide backward toward the center of gravity making you more secure in your posture.


In our Tortuga Movements we will work from the fingers up and into the shoulders, and we will work from the shoulders down to the hands. Together we will explore the affects of the balanced shoulder girdle on our overall health and our practice. We will bring honor and respect to this valuable asset we call the shoulder girdle.

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