I have written about armpits many times before. There are more things to talk about with regards to actions at the shoulder joints but the armpits are so key and I have focussed on them in our course.
One of the key things to appreciate is that how you use your armpits, depending on shoulder position, can impact on the spine. If you take your arms overhead, I take armpits forward and up and NOT down and back.
In an overhead position armpits forward and up will help create length in the spine.
If you take them down and back while arms are overhead, or even down, you get a shortening feeling around your sides and back.
To come into more difficult postures where the arms are overhead you need to free up your armpits so the spine can move freely.
Some backbends happen with the arms below shoulder height, like ustrasana or bhujangasana for instance. In those types of positions, because arms are not overhead, I take armpits down and back. The video below shows how I can do backbends with armpits down and back, as I would in backbends like bhujangasana, or forward and up, such as I would in urdhva dhanurasana.
As I show, because I have a fairly fluid spine it does not create difficulty for me to come into an overhead backbend like urdhva dhanurasana with armpits down. But it does not feel as good as it could either.
The thing is most people (either coming to yoga or not) tend to be stiff in their spine in general, and move most from their lower back.
Doing urdhva dhanurasana with the armpits to the hips (downs and back) can reinforce the shortening many people already experience.
So, in my classes I encourage armpits to ears to generate the length in the spine.
Again, because I am fairly mobile around my armpit area, especially when I take them overhead, I can easily come up into a full backbend with armpits to ears.
People who are tighter around the armpits will find that they cannot come up so easily and I suggest you only come up to the point where you feel at ease in your spine. This might mean the shoulders barely come off the floor and you just lift a little, as I also show in the video.
These are not things to practice without the guidance of an experienced practitioner so I encourage you to go to one. I would encourage you to feel in your own body what is going on and if you come out of a backbend with a sore lower back to question what has gone on to create that as it should not be squashing.
In our classes this week we also looked at some of the basic movements at the shoulder joint--shoulders rolling in and shoulders rolling out. We looked at how these movements can cause associated movements in the upper back (thoracic spine). We looked at how these associated movements can be over-ridden if we call attention to them.
For instance, rolling the shoulders in tends to cause the upper spine to round as though bending forward. We can try to lift the chest softly to help bring the spine back to upright.
When rolling the shoulders out it tends to cause the upper spine to arch as though back bending but that we can also over-ride this if we are conscious of it by softly drawing the lower ribs in.
Understanding these associated movements will help you learn to move your spine independently of shoulders for better and more active spinal movement. I will post more about this later. The armpits are a lot to think about already!
I had to laugh at myself when I re-watched the video. I am not sure how my voice turned into a David Attenbourough-esque commentary. Perhaps it is because I feel so wonderfully passionate and when that happens and you try to explain something it does something funny to your voice. Well, to mine anyway, Also to my eyebrows!
We will practice these actions in my classes, workshops, and retreats in Canberra, Colombo, and Bali. I'd love to have you along.
Great work all. Happy and safe practicing.