Fascia Yoga: establishing well-balanced helical tension in the shoulders, elbows and wrists

An expansive network of fascia winds in a spiral fashion in four different lines around the arms. These lines provide stability and connect directly to the torso of the body. With the following therapeutic exercises, you can develop a balanced tension in these lines which will in turn promote healthy shoulders, arms, elbows and wrists.

Understanding Yoga Therapy

An uninterrupted continuum as opposed to independent parts

At first glimpse we could look out our body and easily be under the impression that the torso is independent of the arms as if they were two separate units. Evolutionarily speaking, our arms developed over time, growing laterally outward from the torso. This can be further identified at the myofascial level. Here, the myofasical lines of the torso continue through the arms in an uninterrupted continuum. 

You can observe this connection yourself at this moment. Take a few deep breaths and observe how the vibration of the breath is palpable in the palms of the hands. 

Rotational Stabilization: like two intertwined strands of rope

There are two myofasical lines that wrap around the front and back of the arm like two ropes that are intertwined. The twisting of the lines create stability. At the same time, it strengthens their connection to the torso. 

The two deeper lines running on the front and back of the shoulder are connected with the deep double helix of the torso. They pull across the shoulder joint and are known as the rotator cuff. 

The higher lines on the anterior and posterior sides of the scapula are associated with the superficial double helix. They connect and move the large pectorals (M. pectoralis major), the lats (M. lattisimus dorsi) and the deltoids (M. Deltoideus) over the shoulder joint. 

At the shoulder joint, the two strands switch their position. The superficial lines fold inward and the deeper lines emerge around the biceps and triceps. 

At the forearm, the two strands wind across one another again. The now deeper layer flows into the muscles of the forearms. The superficial layer continues downward to the hands.

Holistic approach to long-term health

As shown here, the myofasical system wraps, intertwines and connects a multitude of smaller components and are not only important for a small segment of the arm, but rather a much larger and more complex system which includes surrounding structures. From a therapeutic point of view, we should look at the arm as a whole. If there is a tear, for example, in a myofascial structure in the shoulder, the entire strand will be affected, losing elasticity along the complete line. It's not surprising that a rotator cuff injury will also be noticeable in the upper arm, because as we have discussed before, the deep layer at the scapula continues all the way to the hand where it then becomes a superficial layer the the upper arm. 

Conversely, we can develop this floating tension as a preventative measure, which will benefit the health of the arm as a whole. Let's say we want to prepare the shoulder joint for a handstand. It is more valuable to look at strengthening the elbows and wrists along with the shoulders, because the floating tension can only be achieved through working the entire arm. In doing so, the floating tension will create a lightness throughout the arm and will effortlessly carry our body when we balance in acrobatic exercises. 

Exercise sequence

Muscles which cross over a joint diagonally are particularly important for a healthy floating tension to be established. This exercise sequence targets activation of these muscles. We begin with the hands then move upwards towards the torso. 

Wrist circles in the "Junebug" position

Start prone on the floor, extending the arms and legs in the air. At first it will seem very easy, but stay persistent. After a while you will feel the warmth of the forearm and calf muscle activation. Change directions and work till you feel the same intensity.  

Option: If you want to target the arms specifically and really intensify the exercise, you can sit on a chair and use a large box filled with rice. Dig your hands into the rice and create the circles in the rice until the activation of the forearm muscles are noticeable. 

Effect: This exercise activates the diagonal myofascial lines via the wrist. Looking at the bigger picture, the two diagonal lines are part of an opposing double helix. This is the basis for creating floating tension and essential for healthy wrists. 

Windshield wipers with the hands in cobra

Lay supine on the floor. Place your palms with your fingers forward on the floor and take care to ensure that the forearm is approximately vertical. Now, lift the shoulders and legs up and away from the floor. 

Use the hands and create a windshield-wiper movement, rotating the palm inwards and outwards. The harder you press into the floor, the higher the frictional resistance. With this in mind you can adjust the intensity to your taste.

Effect: The elbow joint is also stabilized with the help of a double helix. This brings the elbow joint into floating tension. 

Windshield wipers on all-fours 

Now we will do the same exercise on all fours. Set up your alignment carefully, placing the knees under the pelvis and the hands beneath the shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine. From here, press into the ground so that the space between the shoulder blades is a bit rounded (lifting the thoracic spine vertically). 

Exhale and twist he upper arms so that your fingers slide over the floor and turn the hands inwards. Inhale and twist outwards to externally rotate the hands. The rotation takes place at the shoulder joint, so move from this point! Keep working until you can sense the intensity in your rotator cuff.

Effect: The rotator cuff centers the head of the humerus in the socket of the shoulder joint. In pushing the shoulder forwards, the socket of the Gleno-humeral joint hovers directly above the head of the humerus. The windshield wiper movement activates the rotator cuff muscles, thus, further centering the head of the humerus and creating floating tension. 

Scapular rotation in all fours

Again from all-fours with a neutral spine you will exhale and let your upper back hang between the shoulder blades. Straighten your arms completely and maintain a neutral spine as you breathe. 

Inhale and push hard into the floor, so that the upper back and shoulder blades meet again. The spine and elbows should not be effected by this movement. Try to keep the movement specifically at the scapula. 

Gradually, you can add shoulder circles to the up and down "shoulder pushup" movement. When you inhale and push, the shoulder blades reach upwards toward the head and when you exhale downwards toward the pelvis. 

Keep working until you start to notice a softening of the muscles surrounding the shoulder blades. 

Effect: The shoulder blades provide a perfect example of floating tension. They are connected by nothing more than the very fine clavicle bone and through this the entire arm and torso are held together. It would be hard to maintain such stability without the myofascial lines creating floating tension to hold the scapula in place. The lines tend to tense up due to lack of movement. 

This exercise works to target this hardened up area and can get the myofascial lines moving again. At first you may notice a bit of clicking under your shoulder blade. Over time, the muscles become stronger and the fascia more elastic. The result is a smooth gliding of the shoulder blades over the rib cage. 

Have fun practicing!

Teacher: Dr. Ronald Steiner
Yogini: Kumiko Weber Sakaguchi
Photographer: Paul Königer
Apparel: OGNX

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