Anatomy of the Trapezius -- View 1
Brock & Krista Cahill came to Boston and taught a full weekend of workshops on inversions, arm balances, and other fun things. This is less a review of their yoga workshops and more a collection of notes, thoughts, and ideas that occurred in practice with them.
As always, I believe in studying with teachers who are excellent, regardless of what they teach. If you are good teacher, then I am eager to learn what you have to teach. I have taken classes with many teachers, both “brand-name” and not so famous. As such, I can confidently say that the Cahills are excellent teachers of what they teach. I recommend studying with them if you have the chance.
This was probably the worst weekend for me to be taking Brock & Krista Cahill’s workshops at South Boston Yoga.
Let me preface this by saying that I’ve been excited about their trip ever since the classes went on my calendar a few months ago. Inversions in all forms are my favorite part of my practice. Long-held supported inversions have been my secret to good living. On the active side, I’ve been seriously working on handstand for over 3 years. (Serious means daily focused practice and yearly commitments to “get” something by next New Years. Goals from alignment to jumping up with two legs to floating down to push ups to timing to proprioception to closed eyes. The past year I’ve diligently worked to balance off the wall. Each New Year’s goal is never achieved but I get so much fun in the process. Post for another day.)
I am the first to tell you that daily practice is critical. In my case I’ve started with a body like that flip flops every which way and needs years to build strength. Daily practice builds strength and stamina but it also explores anatomy and cements alignment and technique. Handstand is also about technique.
The Cahill’s are well-known in the handstand, press, and arm balance + transitions arena. There’s plenty to learn from someone who’s been there. Also, being in the physical presence of an accomplished asana practitioner can give new light, perspectives, and inspiration. Needless to say I’ve been excited to learn from them.
I say all this to give appropriate context to the following sentence:
About 10 minutes into Friday nights class I almost stopped and considered just lying down in savasana and listening to the rest of the class. I was that tired.
The last two weeks have been crazy, full, and exciting but the result was that my body and mind were wiped out. Add on a strong practice heavy on the sweat and flow and demanding my full cognitive attention and you have me wishing I were lying down instead of standing up.
But even though I may be physically and mentally beat the Cahills were fabulous and there were good things to be found.
Below are some notes from tonight’s (Friday) class, in no particular order…
N.B. Not all things are relevant to Brock & Krista’s teaching tonight. Some of it was just my own wandering and meandering mind. Also excuse sketchiness and unorthodox grammar. Think more jotted notebook phrases of things I wanted to remember.
It’s easy to practice when your attention is sharp.
The adventure is to practice when nothing in your mind will focus, your body wants to take savasana, and you are TIRED. It’s been a long week.
I am the first to take a slow or restorative yoga practice. I can go on and on about my love for bolsters and blankets. I love my rejuvenating quiet yoga which partners with a love for challenging active practice.
Normally, on a tired day like this I would be lying with my legs up the wall. Tired body, tired mind = no crazy stuff. Quiet for the win on the non-sharp day. But Brock and Krista have such a positive energy. And I had made it to class, so I was there.
When I’m mentally gone, all those little patterns and details of weakness in my practice and alignment make themselves known.
My practice usually involves lots of focused attention on anatomy, alignment, and precision of movement. It’s the only way I’ve found to support and even heal the multitude of injuries I came to yoga with. But tired, that focus and attention and control just wants to float out the window. Tonight, uber-tired, I could barely instruct my feet to lift.
Benefit: imbalances in my body became crystal clear.
Example: I’ve been working on and off to find the corners of my feet and figuring out how these corners are balanced and interact in space. Sometimes, in an effort to align and discover I overdo so the actual situation becomes muddled. Does my foot actually orient that way or am I subconsciously “fixing” it by observing it? (Classic case of the observer effect.)
Tonight I could not “find” my inner back heel in lunges or extended leg’s inner heel in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Also my outer pinky toe mound disappeared in my warriors.
So my inability to “correct”/control tonight, meant there was no “over-correcting”/over-controlling. The questions I had been asking myself for months were clear.
Non-benefit: I was so wiped I couldn’t actually do anything about this clarity. Realizing I could not find my inner foot did not actually help me to find my inner foot. I couldn’t figure out how to engage there like I usually would after clarity and attention. To figure out another day.
Interesting start to class to place in teacher toolkit. I’m calling it “Super-Hero Tadasana“
Tadasana with hands around blocks. 90degrees. squeeze block. work shoulder alignment. Shoulders relaxed away from ears. Humerus in shoulder socket. Collar bones wide. Back ribs up and front ribs soft/down. Tall.
Do this forever.
Raise arms progressively 3inches. Repeat.
Until arms straight up. [like a super-hero!] Hold.
Bend elbows back–a la pincha mayurasana (Forearm balance). Elbows parallel. Back ribs up and front ribs soft.
Hello shoulders and upper back. Nice to re-meet you.
Me: bonus if you are using heavy wood or cork block.
UPDATE: I may have to rethink the trademarking of the previous sequence under the name “Super-Hero Tadasana”. Day 2 gives us another exercise to open class, this time on the floor in Supta Tadasana. Exercise involves specific engagement from feet to hips to shoulders to fingertips and your block makes an appearance again. Reasons the supta Tadasana exercise should be henceforth called “Super-Hero Tadasana”:
- “super-hero” sounds like “supta” in Americanized Sanskrit.
- it would defeat the purpose of trying to shorten Sanskrit named [modern] poses by Americanization if we called the supta Tadasana exercise “Super-hero Tadasana Two”. Clearly too many numbers for the yoga students in class to keep track of before they’ve had their morning coffee/green juice.
- irony that you call out super-hero but end up on the floor.
- bigger irony when you realize the floor kicks you ass.
Will also entertain the name “Super Tadasana” for same reasons as above.
Obvious but true: “Shoulder blades go in opposite direction of neck.”
At first this didn’t make sense.
Point here is to engage the lower and mid-trapezius muscle fibers which draw shoulder blades down the back. Effect of softening upper trapezius fibers. Effect of moving shoulders and shoulder blades away from neck. Effect of freer neck.
The anatomy nerd in me immediately connected to finding the lower trapezius fibers. Again, it seemed so obvious in the moment, but obvious was perfect for this fried brain.
A refresher on trapezius anatomy via the following diagram (click to enlarge):
The upper fibers of the trapezius are those muscles that cause headaches and pain and make you wish you had a massage therapist on call to massage your shoulders.
When the upper trapezius fibers are tight or overly contracted, the shoulder blades are raised towards the ears. The trapezius around the neck gets tight and grips. The result: tension headaches, a stiff neck, pain in the upper back and around the neck. Sound familiar?
Relaxed upper trapezius muscle fibers will make your neck feel so much better–in handstands but more importantly in life.
So, a partial solution to stiff neck muscles: engaging the lower and middle trapezius muscle fibers. This will relax the upper trapezius fibers and therfore soften the upper traps. Then you won’t need that massage therapist on call to work at your desk (though that would still be nice) when your neck hurts or your tension headaches flare up.
Shoulder: the lower trapezius fibers contracting causing the upper trapezius to soften
should be a similar neurological response as
Knee: the quadriceps muscle contracting causing the hamstring muscle to relax.
Back ribs up. Front ribs down.
Handstand = Bakasana around anterior pelvis [think forward bend in the waist]. Backbend in upper torso.
Inner thighs touch in lunge, 3-legged dog, vira 3, et al.
Weight press in front of heel for leg engagement (shin, hamstring. No hyperextension of knee.)
Heart forward dragged by hands back for planche-style jump backs, float up and backs, plank, et al.
Back ribs are the kidney ribs.
Crow has always been my nemesis. It is super hard for me.
At home I try to I will cycle through handstands dropping down towards bakasana but I don’t actual expect to get anywhere. Let’s just say my “float into crow” aims to be more like a controlled slide through crow. I hope.
This means that I was not expecting much while working the transition from bakasana (crow) to adho mukha vrksasana (handstand). But hey! This transition is way cooler and way more possible than I ever could have imagined! Thank you Brock for the assist and my partner for the repeat!
The assist work we did was really nice–press handstand work and the bakasana to adho mukha assist. The sensation is one of really lifting the hips in the latter. The biomechanics actually work out much more smoothly than I anticipated.
Now will have to figure out the “how to” and how to work on that one on my own.
Should ask Krista what she did for the 10 years she was working on that transition.
UPDATE: Bolsters bolsters bolsters. Up up up. Knees knees knees. “Froggy” “froggy” “froggy”. Hips hips hips. Core core core.
Note to remember: eagle crow arm balance which had not tried before was cool. Opposite leg of what would intuitively think.
[unrelated side note: variations on crow and other crossed/crazy arm-ani balances: check. Regular, straight crow: uncheck. Nemesis.]
Gah! ab work.
Not great on a good night. NOT great on a tired night.
Need to get back on the Navasana boat.
I liked the ardha chandrasana (half-moon) cartwheel sidebend into straddle handstand.
Tricky to work at my at home wall space so I never think to do it. (Memories of class with David Regelin and the “wild turkey kick” maneuver 2 years ago.)
Krista’s instructional breakdown–from flexible person perspective–in downward facing dog of outer hip engagement.
Starting with legs up through hips, anterior pelvis, ribcage rising to level of pelvis, to shoulders, and then using this core lift to jump, press, or pike forward was AWESOME!
This is one of those situations where when she instructed us through all the steps in the sequence it worked perfectly. And then when we repeated it again on our own, I couldn’t get the exact same effect.
Note to teaching self: Remember every time you give all the steps in the entrance to a pose (e.g. Ustrasana) and then shorten the instructions the 2nd or 3rd time around? It doesn’t work the same for students! This is a Room-for-Debate moment on the merits of full instructions on the 2nd and 3rd+ pass or just a quick review of the necessary yoga points.
Still tired. Still wiped.
Handstand has always been my pick-me-up but at a certain point you give in. Hence the early Savasana…which was great. (And no, I didn’t fall asleep.) So something went right.
Brock and Krista Cahill are the cool teachers I wish I had in the studio around the corner so that I could go to class every week.
Why? Handstands are my drug and these two provide it. And there is no crying involved. And they are just cool if they can give a wiped out girl her high.
Yes, if they were my weekly teachers I would build the physical stamina for a fun inversion practice. Yes I would learn from master technicians who have really put the hours in and can communicate what they’ve learned over the years. Yes I would sweat lots.
But really I would go because I would have fun. I would get my daily dose of sweat and happy and good. They create that space.
I still believe that people from warm climates have an inherit advantage in the good mood department. But even if their LA base gives them that advantage, the Cahills should come back more often.
UPDATE: Major props to traveling teachers who actually teach regular weekly classes. Major props to teachers who give good adjustments. Major props to teachers who manage to individually teach students in a roomful of abilities.
There is no ego here. They know what they are talking about, give fabulous individual attention, and generous and skillful assists.
The Cahills are warm and accessible, invested in students, and cool folks. Fun, sweat, and the teaching skills to boot. sweet. The absolute best “flight attendants”.