Upper Body Therapeutics

Although I’ve been teaching yoga since 2005, I’m disinclined towards New Age philosophy, and tend towards a more scientific, earthy approach in yoga, and generally in life. I was therefore suspicious when I learned that the prime indicator of health in the upper body is ‘pranic fullness.’ I’ll admit that I dismissed this claim as excessively New Agey and esoteric, and instead invested my time in learning anatomy and alignment.

Prana is a sanskrit word that can be translated as life force, or vitality, or vital breath. It is roughly analogous to the concept of chi in Chinese medicine. And while I easily understood that breath was the most immediate of human needs (we have only a few minutes we can survive if the breath is impinged), it took me some time to understand how this affected the physical body.

Due to a serious shoulder injury, I became interested in alignment-based yoga, and it was in those studies that I dove into biomechanics, anatomy, and alignment, and that is how I began to see how prana and the physical body relate.

Let’s go back to that concept my yoga teacher told me: a strong pranic body is the prime indicator of health in the upper body.  Here’s what she meant from a physical standpoint:

  • the curves of the spine will be present and balanced with an even rate of curve along each section,
    • the lumbar spine (low back) is lordotic, meaning it curves into the body; there should be an even rate of curve along the five lumbar vertebrae,  
    • the thoracic spine (mid back) is kyphotic, meaning it curves away from the body; there should be an even rate of curve along the twelve thoracic vertebrae,
    • the cervical spine (neck) mirrors the lordotic curve of the low back, curing into the body, and should also have an even rate of curve along its seven vertebrae.
  • the ribs and the spine will interact clearly without distortion left or right or forward/ back (contrast this with scoliosis, which pulls the spine off center, over-strengthening some muscles and weakening others).
  • the pelvis will be level, not tucked under (posterior tilt), nor lifted in the back like a gymnast (anterior tilt). It should also be even left to right, without an upslip of one side of the pelvis, which impacts muscles around the hips. low back, legs, and higher into the torso.
  • the shoulders will be level across, and relatively even with the base of the neck.

Let’s start with the shoulders, which started me on this whole path. My injured shoulder had dropped and rounded forward (this is overwhelmingly the pattern I observe in tweaked shoulders). Once learning that the shoulder should be more level with the base of the neck, I lifted the shoulder with the lifting muscles (trapezius), but didn’t get the relief or healing I needed. Why? Because it bypassed the pranic component, and wasn’t breath initiated. Which meant that the deeper muscles in the rib cage weren’t activated.

Once I learned that initiating this movement with the breath was necessary, my healing started to take hold. Check out this short video which details the difference.

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One way to look at it is pranic toning. But another way to understand it is: the way we direct the breath impacts deep, small muscles in the torso. This activation is the important first step in supporting the muscular system. Be in touch with any feedback or questions.

This article was written by Justicia DeClue. 

About Justicia:
Justicia (E-RYT 500) has been teaching since 2005 and is the owner and director of Maha Yoga in Philadelphia. She is most sought after for her detailed alignment instruction and open-hearted teaching style. She is teaching alignment-oriented workshops at Maha Yoga, and hope you can join her in April.  She really loves Instagram, and can also be found on Facebook.