Spreading Our Wings in Yoga

It’s a theme I’ve covered many times in Feldenkrais classes, and now I’m bringing it into weekly yoga classes. After many weeks of exploring the Roundness of Ourselves, including long forays into the roundness of the pelvis, the ribs, and even the legs, we’ll begin to spread our wings.


Many students are surprised to find, in a quick study of the skeleton, that our arms are not skeletally linked to our torso anywhere but at the sternoclavicular joint. That’s the Yoga with Sheri Cohenplace where your collar bones (clavicles) meet your breast bone (sternum) just under your throat. From there it’s a chain of bones and joints all the way out to the finger tips. The shoulder blades (scapulae) are not attached to the back at all, but are attached to your collar bone and your upper arm bone (humerus). So, (please sing) … the arm bone’s connected to the shoulder blade, and the shoulder blade’s connected to the collar bone, and the collar bone’s connected to the breast bone, and that’s the way of the world.

She shoulder joint, then, is designed for a great deal of freedom of mobility, not unlike the wings of our phylogenetic ancestors, the birds. But, we don’t need just freedom of mobility for the arm, we need stability, too, to push, pull, grasp, and, in yoga, balance on our hands. Where does the stability come from? In part, the ligaments and muscles around the joint are relied on for stability. Some will say that a “strong core” is necessary for shoulder stability. Indeed, the abdominal muscles are an important part of the picture, but I think this is overemphasized, causing unnecessary antagonism in the back.


The key to stabilizing  the arm through the highly-mobile shoulder joint, without straining the soft tissues that encapsulate it, is in finding skeletal support. So many of us use our arms as though they were attached at the seam where our shirt sleeve is sewn on. This puts strain on the glenohumeral joint (can you say “frozen shoulder”?) and ignores the important role of the shoulder blade and collar bone in healthy arm function.

Let’s not stop there. The spine supports the rib cage (or breast basket, as I prefer, from the German brustkorb), the front of which is the attachment for the whole wing (arm and shoulder girdle). Efficient movements of the spine and rib cage, then, are essential for moving the arm and shoulder well. Of course, the spine intersects with the pelvis, and the pelvis is, in most of our activities, supported by the legs and feet, so we could look all the way to how we transmit the ground forces—our support from the earth—to how we play the piano or or balance in chatturanga dandasana.

So, in yoga classes this fall, we’ll turn our attention to our wings, exploring our arm and shoulder anatomy experientially, so we might learn to sense more clearly there. We’ll look for more efficient qualities of mobility and stability by recruiting skeletal support from below—from the legs, pelvis and spine. All this while we attend to the breath and  arrive into the present tense of being.

All levels Yoga
Sundays, 9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
Gentle Yoga
Mondays, 9:30 – 11:00 a.m.
(Drop in for $16 / $14 seniors, class cards for less)
Lotus Yoga
4860 Rainier Avenue South

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