The next time you take a Vinyasa class you should count the number of Chaturangas you flow through. In a 60 minute class I teach probably a minimum of 12. Chaturanga and arm balancing postures like Crow are great postures to strengthen the front line of the body with their powerful pushing action, however, the opposing muscles of the body, the pulling muscles, are harder to target in a Vinyasa practice. Unfortunately this imbalance can lead to discomfort or potentially injury for some students.
For a while I was dealing with some shoulder pain while practicing. Of course I don't encourage anyone to self diagnose their own injuries, but I believe my pain was due to the muscles in my chest being a lot stronger than the muscles around my shoulder blades and back. Then I started to doing pull-ups and viola! The pain during my practice subsided.
Now I'm not saying everyone should do pull-ups. They definitely are not the most enjoyable exercise. But I do think more Vinyasa students should spend time on strength work for the muscles around the shoulder blades to balance out all the pushing action that happens in practice. With that, I've got an exercises you can try that is very easy to incorporate into your practice:
Locust isn't the most satisfying backbend. The range of motion is low and the breath is often shallow due to it being a belly-down posture. It might not be satisfying, but Locust is a great posture for strengthening the backline of the body. You can also add a pulling action with the arms to up your strengthening game.
To begin, lay on your belly with your arms stretched out overhead. I like to separate the feet hips-distance apart for extra stability.
On an exhalation press into your feet, lift your chest a few inches, and simultaneously pull your elbows down to a 90 degree angle. As you pull down draw your shoulder blades toward your hips. Be sure to keep your abdominals active and avoid from pushing your belly into your mat.
It seems so simple, and it is! But it's incredibly effective. Since I've started to focus more on strengthening the muscles around my shoulders, not only have I gotten past my shoulder pain in practice, but my arm balance and inversion practice feels a lot stronger and stable. This exercise is also very helpful for those who suffer from computer posture which is taking our culture by storm.
A lot of yoga is about balance, right? Rather than just focusing on the balance of your mind and body or balancing on one foot, why not balance out the muscle groups you work in practice?