So. My shoulder thing is still going. Lots of crunchy noises (which the sports medicine guy said are no big deal, unless there’s also pain) and the occasional sharp pain (which is moving from the top of the arm to the inside of the shoulder blade). It’s lessening and lessening, but still not gone. I know this stuff takes forever to heal, so I’m trying to be patient. But I’m also trying to keep my practice habit intact. I was already struggling with slacking, and then the injury confused me almost to the point of inaction (much like a muscle in spasm). I’ve been wondering how much rest my shoulder needs, how much work and what kind, how much stretching / massage / release, and, most of all, what is up with my Down Dog? (My left shoulder doesn’t feel anything like the right one now.) I’ve been unable to distinguish pain that is strengthening my shoulder from pain that is further aggravating it. So, I’ve been looking for some specific guidance on what poses to practice, and what poses to avoid.
A friend who also has a left shoulder injury (from a skiing accident, much more glamorous than my sleeping accident) recommended Beth Hinnen at Integral Yoga. She studied Structural Yoga Therapy, an Iyengar-based system of individualized therapeutic yoga, and wrote her final paper on rotator cuff injuries. (Note: I don’t know any other teacher training that makes you write a thesis.) The class is general Hatha II, with a mix of men and women, young and old. We did some gentle warmups, three rounds of Sun Salutes with variations, some standing poses and inversions, and closed with pranayama and meditation. (Warning: there is chanting, for those of you who can’t take it.)
I’ve been three times now, and been helped greatly by each class. In the first class, after I introduced my injury (not that it’s a separate being…), she gave me some great adjustments in Down Dog. She really emphasized the external rotation of the upper arm bones, while keeping the inner rotation of the forearms, until my shoulder blades simply couldn’t wrap around the side of my ribs any more. She eliminated my overarched back by waking up my abdominal lift and containing my flared lower ribs. I felt strong in the pose again, and not scared to practice it any more!
The second class started with the Joint-Freeing Series, a sequence of wrist, elbow, and shoulder movements that’s also great for arthritis. She also gave us shoulder tips in each and every pose. But I had a flashbulb moment at the very first instruction. From sitting, she had us bring our arms straight out in front of us, and stretch them forward. “Now pull the shoulders back, into their sockets, and feel them relax downward.” Well, mine were the opposite: relaxed when stretched forward (out of the socket), tense and awkward when drawn back home. So I’ve been working on that adjustment for three weeks now, and noticing crazy subconscious postural habits. (I really think injury is 90% posture, and 10% irritant.)
In the third class, the Cobra instructions were really helpful. Lying on the belly, palms under the shoulders, relaxing the lower back and butt. Keep them relaxed as you raise the forehead an inch off the floor. Try again. Try again. It’s amazing how much we overuse our lower back. This method helps release the lower back, and strengthen the upper. We also did Locust with arms by the side, out perpendicular, and in front, for three more levels of strengthening.
Beth was also kind enough to bring me the handouts from the shoulder workshop she teaches: anatomy articles from Yoga Journal, diagrams of the rotator cuff bones and muscles, and instructions for the Joint-Freeing and Shoulder Strengthening Series. She taught me Cat Bow, a short pushup from Table Top (with the shoulders in front of the wrists) that helps strengthen the serratus etc. These two series take about 15 minutes total, so I’m trying to practice them every day.
It feels really good to have a strategy now. I really appreciate all the tips Beth gave me; I have a path back into my poses. If you have a rotator cuff injury, a slipped disc, a bad knee, or really any kind of confusing pain, I urge you to check out the research papers on the Structural Yoga Therapy site. It will give you an amazing introduction to the field of individualized yoga therapy, if you haven’t encountered it already.