Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Isis Scrolls

Ask the Yogi! Yoga Therapy for Pain and Injuries with Robyn Smith.

In this monthly column, certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Robyn Smith, will answer your queries about healing pain and injuries through yoga poses. Please send in your questions to

Dear Robyn,

I’ve been experiencing pain in my right shoulder when working at my computer for the last few months. I thought yoga was supposed to help, but now I notice downward dog and table position aggravate my pain. What do you suggest? Thanks, Anne.

Dear Anne,

Yoga can actually help your situation quite a bit. The funny thing is that the poses that can worsen your injury if done incorrectly are the same ones that can be the most healing if done with proper alignment and action. Downward Facing Dog Pose is a great example. Often in this pose, the lower and upper arm bones succumb to the pull of gravity and the shoulders and base of the wrists collapse, causing wrist and shoulder misalignment and thus pain. However, activating the muscles that oppose the gravitational pull can lead to great shoulder relief. To work in this pose properly, I would suggest first learning to apply the proper actions in the pose I call Half Dog. This is like downward dog on your knees.

Half Dog Pose: To start, set the intention to be kind to your self. This will create a sweet tone for your practice. Now, from all fours, place your wrist creases parallel with the front of the mat, align the middle of the wrist with the outer shoulder muscle, and spread your fingers out like a sunflower. Then allow your heart center to “melt,” creating a valley between your shoulder blades as you recognize your desire to heal your body. (Avoid collapsing fully here if that melting action easy for you). This opening of the back of the heart is the action you’ll need to recreate once in the Half Dog pose. Now walk your knees back about 8 inches and reach your hips back over your knees, so your thighs are vertical. To protect your wrists and shoulders, root down through the finger pads while strongly lifting up through the arm bones. Lift them up so much that your armpits get hollow (without letting them roll inwards towards your ears). Maintaining that action, allow the area between your shoulder blades to “melt” down towards the floor again as you stretch long from your hands to your hips. The opposing actions of the arm bones lifting and the heart melting, create great strength in the arms and upper back, while also opening the upper back. In fact, these actions, when applied daily in this and other poses, will realign your shoulder and may even completely resolve your shoulder pain, especially if your computer position is ergonomically correct! Once you can perform Half Dog without pain, attempt the complete Downward Facing Dog with the same actions. Please keep in mind that many people have an inner torso rotation which needs to be addressed before applying the above actions. This is where a yoga teacher with a trained eye becomes invaluable.


We often have to use under-used muscles to create proper joint alignment, working against our habitual postural or movement habits. When this happens, those under-used muscles get stronger and are more apt to hold the joints in proper alignment. In turn, when the joints are aligned, the muscles are closer to their optimal length and they are “happier!” They no longer “complain” from being over-stretched or over-worked from misaligned positions

Please e-mail me if you have any questions!


Robyn Smith is a certified Anusara Yoga Instructor, Integrative Yoga Therapist and Hanna Somatic Educator who has been teaching yoga since 1994 and helping individuals with chronic pain through Somatics and Yoga Therapy since 1998. She offers classes, workshops, teacher trainings, retreats and privates in Arcata and beyond. She can be reached through or at (707) 440-2111.

1 comment:

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