How did Justicia stop hurting her shoulder on her yoga mat?

Dear Justicia,

I invested in one private yoga session with Zhenja La Rosa and I’m not exaggerating when I say that it changed my life.

About fifteen years ago, a nagging shoulder pain began bugging me. Like many injuries I’ve worked with (both my own and other yogis’), my shoulder would get better and then worse. I’d feel like I was making some progress and then I’d backslide.

I would get some relief from a chiropractic adjustment or a massage, but then the next week the pain would flare up again.

Acupuncture was helpful, but the pain didn’t go away. I didn’t know why it kept hurting, but it was getting harder and harder to ignore. I needed the wisdom of alignment to work with my shoulder, because the other things I was trying weren’t cutting it.

What started as nagging discomfort escalated to searing, debilitating pain over time. I stopped things that seemed to be irritating it – binds in yoga poses, heavy lifting, arm balances.

But it got so bad that I couldn’t lift a glass of water without grimacing. Down dog had to be taken off the menu. I felt like a fraud of a yoga teacher, because no matter what I did, I seemed to hurt myself. Even seemingly simple postures became fraught.

I was getting less and less relief from acupuncture, massages, PT and chiropractic adjustments, and was frustrated and defeated.

I kept traveling to Manhattan to take class at Vira Yoga with Zhenja because I loved her teaching style and in every class she would give me verbal cues and adjustments that made my shoulder feel better.

But of course in a public class, she had many other students and couldn’t spend the entire class time addressing my shoulder.

So I saved up for a private session. It was a lot of money to spend on an hour of yoga, but I was beyond ready to get to the bottom of my shoulder pain.

In my private session in Zhenja’s apartment, she immediately noticed that I was unconsciously moving my hand back a couple inches when I transitioned from Cobra to Down Dog.

Every. Time.

She noticed it in the first, slow Sun Salutation I did, and gave me verbal feedback. I was surprised (why did my hand move?? Weird!) Then I did it again a few moments later, completely unaware that it was happening. Then – again!

She explained that this unconscious act was straining my shoulder. It was a small thing, but over time and with repetition, many small things become Very Big Things.

And because I didn’t know it was happening, I had no way to get leverage over it. My shoulder got better and worse from time to time but I didn’t know why.

The awareness I gleaned in this session immediately changed my shoulder. I learned that I was moving my hand because my right ribs were shortened. This meant my right shoulder sat lower than my left, and this asymmetry was present in every single movement my body made.

The band-aids I had been reaching for (massages, acupuncture) offered some relief, but it wasn’t until Zhenja uncovered the root of why I kept hurting myself that I was able to make real change.

And that’s the heart of all movement science: the things our body does unconsciously make a huge impact. Until we shine a light on those hidden movement patterns, we remain unable to tune them up.

Sometimes the cause of discomfort is something obvious like a car accident or a wonky step off a curb that sprains the ankle. But very often it is something hidden: a hand that moves back two inches in a Sun Salutation; a foot that turns out slightly and rolls to the outer edge; a pelvis that tucks under and flattens the low back curve.

These hidden things must be seen, and this is exactly what private yoga is for. Your instructor will reflect back to you the movement patterns in your body, and together you’ll make a plan to work with your own tendencies so that you feel better.

If you’re ready to understand your body’s unconscious movement patterns, follow this link to book a private session. Don’t see the time you want? Reply to this email, and I’ll help you with scheduling.