How to Make Your Yoga Inversions Better: External Rotation of the Shoulder Joint

Website for this image
Website for this image
Inversion Principle for the Shoulders: External Rotation of the Arms.
One of the cornerstone principles of alignment in any inversion is external rotation of the arms. We practice this every time we turn our palms to face out and sweep our arms overhead so it should be easy right?
Sadly, no!
Most of us have developed some very bad habits! What makes full external rotation with arms up so challenging is that typically when we take our hands up overhead several tragic things occur.
Yes, I use the word tragic…
Common Misalignments When Taking the Arms Overhead in External Rotation
1. Our shoulders draw up by our ears
2. Our ribs poke out
3. Our butts stick out to compensate for our now contorted alignement
4. I get my yoga teacher panties all in a bunch
For most of us, these bad habits are born way back in the beginning of our yoga practice when the teacher first asks us to take our arms overhead and we try to take our arm bones past our ears.
Perhaps we secretly believe that if we are to score any yoga “street cred” we must display feats of unusual and exemplary flexibility.
Maybe it’s because we long to be teachers pet and in the dark corners of our young impressionable yoga minds we believe that yoga teachers tend to favour the students that look like they could spend a couple of hours on “The Rack” without so much as a peep of discomfort.
Or perhaps we are showing off for the cute boy we met at Starbucks who just happens to have parked his Manduka mat behind ours (What? He has the same mat as you?’s a SIGN! Now all you have to do is impress him with your flexibility and bam! The two of you will ride off together into the proverbial yoga sunset…or better yet float off on his Manduka Mat like Walt Diseny’s Alladin.)
Yes, I’ve given it some thought you see, but probably not enough…
In All Inversions: Draw your arm bones in to your shoulder sockets and externally rotate them. 

Above you can see the most basic example of external rotation of the arms in the first photo the model has the hands alongside her body her thumbs pointing away from her body. (in internal rotation the thumbs would point in see below) In the second photo the model has kept the external rotation of the arms and taken her arms up overhead. Several amazing things are happening here.

Proper Alignment When Taking the Arms Overhead in External Rotation

  1. You can see that her shoulder blades are firmly on her upper back and not riding up by her ears.
  2. Her shoulder blades are spreading apart from one another. This action helps to engage Serratus Anterior. (Serratus Anterior is the MVP when it comes to inversions!)
  3. The armpits are hollowed out and her arms are stick straight. Her triceps are firm and wrapping forward towards her front body and her biceps and inner shoulders are moving  towards her back body.
  4. Her tailbone is drawn down towards her heels and is neither squeezing nor sticking out too far.

Work your External Rotation in Plank, Downward Dog and Cat/Cow Poses. 

  • You can work external rotation of your arms in many poses but in particular Cat/Cow, Plank and Down Dog. When your shoulders are in true external rotation it feels as if you are hollowing out your armpits. Imagine you had to hold a tennis ball under each armpit and you will get the feeling I’m talking about.

Need Still Further Convincing that Externally Rotating Your Arms is Important?

  • When external rotation is not present when taking the arms overhead it can cause impingement syndrome. (Head of arm bone crashing into the acromion process.) Ouch!
  • Feel It: Notice how different it feels to take the arms overhead with the arm bones rolled in (internal rotation palms facing back shoulders rolled forward) vs. rotated out (external rotation palms facing forward shoulders rolled back).

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Where Is Your Psoas?: How To Find And Activate Your Deepest Core Muscle!

Psoas oh Psoas, where art thou oh psoas…

I Have been obsessed lately with teaching pulling the knee into the chest as you kick into handstand. This action works because the action of bringing the knee to the chest activates the psoas muscle.

I found this useful article on Yoga Journal and will help you to understand the movement of the psoas and how it works…

Puppet Practice

Source Yoga Journal fab abs with Richard Rosen

I find it useful to imagine that the psoas is a puppet string, originating on my inner thigh (lesser trochanter). The puppeteer (what good are puppet strings without a puppeteer?) is sitting on my lumbar spine and holding the other end. She can pull on or release it, depending on whether she’s raising or lowering my leg.

Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor with your heels about a foot away from your buttocks. Focus on your right lesser trochanter. From here, in your imagination, follow the course of your puppet-string psoas through the pelvis and up to the lumbar spine, where your puppeteer is holding its free end.

As she pulls on the string, exhale and watch your right foot lift effortlessly off the floor and your right thigh close in toward your belly. (For now, keep your knee bent.) Pause when the hip is fully flexed, and inhale. As the puppeteer releases the string, exhale and lightly float your foot back toward the floor. But wait! Just as your tippy-toes brush the floor, pause to inhale. On the exhalation, the puppeteer will pull again, and your foot will rise up. Continue this up-and-down swinging for at least a minute. Pause at the conclusion of each movement to inhale; lift or drop your foot only on an exhalation. When finished, return your right foot to the floor and repeat with your left leg.

Cough Your Way To A Flat Tummy and Core Strength and Engage Your Transverse Abdominals

 How to Get a flat Tummy by engaging your transverse abdominals How To Train Your Transverse Abdominals and Strengthen Your Core For A Flat Tummy!

Here are some practical tips on how to connect to the ever so challenging lower abdominal muscles.

We will refer to them as your TA …or more specifically, your transverse abdominals!

What is the Transverse Abdominal?

The Transverse abdominals are our deepest abdominal muscles and act as a corset stabilizing our spine and making our lower belly narrow and flat. Yay!

They lie underneath our obliques and connect to our pubic bone by ligaments. This makes training them crucial to pelvic floor engagement and mula bhanda.

They also connect to our diaphragm aiding our lungs and making our breath more powerful.

 Training your Transverse Abdominals is tricky. When they are weak, the feeling of engaging them is sometimes so subtle it gets overlooked. Don’t give up though, it is well worth the effort!

A “Real Life” Example Of What Your Transverse Abdominals Feel Like.

Imagine you have a pair of drawstring pants you are tying on. Your two frontal hip bones should feel as if they are drawing toward one another and your waist should feel as if it is narrowing.

Next, imagine you are trying to zip the fly on some really tight skinny jeans and you have to “suck it all in” so to speak. (Not that you’ve ever had to do that of course….) You should feel that everything from your pubic bone to your navel is sucking in and up.

So What’s The Big Deal?

It is difficult to train the TA alone as it  often gets “bullied” by the other more easily accessed abdominal muscles.

This result is overtraining the other abdominal muscles and a bulky lower belly pooch instead of the sleek lower abs we actually want. Very frustrating indeed!

If you’ve ever seen a bodybuilder with overdeveloped abs that stick out, you know what I’m talking about. A lower belly pooch is often the result of an overtrained rectus abdominal (the most superficial abdominal muscle) and an under-trained transverse abdominal.

A Reminder – Why Is The TA So Vital For Women In Particular?

The TA is particularly important  to cultivate for women who have had children. The Transverse Abdominal muscles are directly connected to the pelvic floor muscles.

Strengthening them not only gives you back your pre-baby body but prevents embarrassing accidents as well. If you have ever laughed so hard a little pee came out you know exactly what I am talking about.   

A Simple Excercise  to Find and Engage the Transverse Abdominals

Place your hands on your hips and gently press your fingers into your abdominals and give a polite “ahem” cough like you are trying to get someones attention. You should feel a deep smooth muscle engage underneath your fingertips. That my friend is your Transverse Abdominals!

Engage Your TA All Day Every Day for Strong Adominals!

So now that you know how to engage your TA, use your “ahem” cough to engage your transverse abdominals whenever and wherever you like. Over time you will be able to engage without the help of your cough. In fact you don’t even need to make a sound as you “cough” it’s more about just bringing your awareness to that area of your body. Over time it will just become automatic.

Every once in a while double-check with your fingers to make sure that you are engaging correctly. You will know you aren’t doing it right if you feel your lower abs bulge out.

I think if the “Most Interesting Man In The World” (The Dos Equis Beer Commercial Guy) were to explain all of this he would say “I don’t always cough, but when I do I make sure to engage my transverse abdominals. Stay strong my friends!”

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The Yoga Foot is Miraculous Indeed!

Sole (foot)
Image via Wikipedia

I was cruising around Facebook when I came across Leanne Carey’s yoga page. I gotta say I am so impressed with all of the cool yoga tips that she gives every day! So, I thought I would post this one to my blog!

The foot is so crucial in yoga alignment because it serves as the platform for the entire body in almost every yoga pose. (If the foot ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy so to speak..) I love the instruction she gives here on correcting your foot imbalances in standing poses. Take off your shoes and try it out!

Leeanne Carey Yoga Daily Tip: The foot! What a miraculous part of the anatomy. Just like my earlier post about the hands, the pada (foot) plays an important role in finding proper alignment of the foreleg and upper leg. And boy, does it inform other body parts. They weren’t kidding when they said the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, and the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone. Well, you know how the rest of the song goes…There are so many things to examine about the feet, so let’s just look at one simple concept similar to the outer and inner edges of the hands in my earlier post. In simple standing (not Tadasana), notice where you naturally tend to distribute your weight; inner and outer feet. And then notice front and back. It’s one of the first things we learn on the mat, but it’s the easiest to forget. The next time you are in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend Pose), if you stand more on the outer edges of your feet, try to stretch from the outer heels of the foot, across the sole of the foot to the big toes. And if you tend to stand more on the inner edges of your feet (or on one foot), consider stretching from the inner heels to the baby toe sides. Notice which, if any, adjustment helps to set you in your feet without scrunching the toes or hardening the ankles. And perhaps the next time you are in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) notice if what you discovered in Uttanasana, shows up here. Apply whichever principle makes sense and allows your ankle bone to talk to an upright shin bone, balanced knee and thigh bone. It all connects, you know. It’s food for feet! Enjoy your weekend, everyone! xo leeann

Handstand Tutorial Part 4: Handstand Principles in Downward Dog and Handstand Jumps with Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss

This is our 4th installment of our Handstand tutorial series (Watch Part 1 Handstand Prep, Part 2 Handstanding Principles in Tadasana, and Part 3 Finding Handstand in your Plank Pose if you missed them and to get an even deeper understanding of what we are talking about)

In this video me and my good friend Marysia Weiss (yogi, teacher and co-author of THEHotandHealthy Blog) talk about the principles of alignement in downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and Handstand (Adho Muhka Vrksasana) and their similarities. So in essence you can practice these principles every time you arrive in down dog as a way to build strength, and the muscle memory in your body in preparation for handstand! Enjoy!

Many thanks to my good friend and local wellness coach Sean Trace who did the filming of this video and to Yogis Anonymous for letting us film there!

Handstand Tutorial Part 3: Finding Handstand in Plank Pose with Marysia Weiss and Angela Kukhahn

In Part 3 of this Handstand tutorial video series (watch Part 1 Handstand Prep, and Part 2 Handstanding Principles in Tadasana to deepen the knowledge of what you will learn here) me and my good friend Marysia Weiss (yogi, teacher and co-author of THEHotandHealthy Blog) talk about the principles of alignement in Plank pose and Handstand (Adho Muhka Vrksasana) and their similarities.

So in essence you can practice these principles every time you arrive in plank pose as a way to build strength, and the muscle memory in your body in preparation for handstand! Enjoy!

Many thanks to my good friend and local wellness coach Sean Trace who did the filming of this video and to Yogis Anonymous for letting us film there!

Handstand Tutorial Part 2: Handstanding Principles in Tadasana with Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss

Welcome to Part 2 of our ongoing series about learning Handstands. (Watch part one Handstand Prep to deepen what you will learn here) In this video we will talk about finding the component parts of handstand in everyday garden variety poses such as Tadasana (Mountain Pose to you non-sanskriters)

My friend in this video is Marysia Weiss, she is a yoga teacher, aspiring chinese medicine doctor, friend and co-author of THEHotandHealthy blog. (Which by the way you should definitely check out!)

Thanks to our video guy  Sean Trace a good friend and a local wellness coach in Los Angeles, and to Yogis Anonymous for letting us film at their lovely studio! Enjoy!

Handstand Tutorial Part 1: Handstand Prep Video with Angela Kukhahn and Marysia Weiss

A very tongue in cheek video explaining the basics of handstands found in every pose with my good friend, yoga teacher and co-author of THEHotandHealthy blog Marysia Weiss. This video is #1 in an ongoing series of videos explaining handstanding and its key component parts found in basic poses! Video is by Sean Trace a local wellness expert. Enjoy!

Flying Upward to Infinity and Beyond – Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana-bandha-yogaUddiyana Bandha which means “Flying Upward” is the second of three energetic locks in the body. It is often engaged along with Mula Bandha (read my article here on the “root lock” Mula Bandha)


1. Strengthens the core muscles as when breathing this way the transverse abdominals are strongly engaged.

2. Stimulates the organs of digestion and elimination

3. Creates a lightness in yoga practice especially when practicing balancing postures including inversions and arm balances.


Not recommended if you are pregnant, are trying to get pregnant, have high blood pressure or experience dizziness. This is considered an advanced breathing technique so if you are new to yoga try it under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher.

To practice Uddiyana Bandha

1.Stand with the legs a little wider than hip width apart and knees softly bent.

2. Inhale reach the arms overhead

3. Exhale all of the breath out through the nose, lean forward, press the palms into the knees, and engage the abdominal muscles to strongly pull the belly in and up under the ribcage.

4. Hold the breath as you hold the abdominal lock and take a mock inhale (perform the same action of an inhale without actually pulling any air into the body.) drawing the belly further up and in.

5. Hold for as long as comfortable.

6. Inhale soften the abdominals and let the belly drop.

7. Breath in and out through the nose and let the breath return to normal.

8. Beginners start with 3 rounds eventually working up to as many as 10 rounds for advanced practitioners.