Birdwing muscles, armpit muscles, boxer's muscles, lady fingers, and my personal favorite the iron fan. What do all these names have in common?
They are all describing the Serratus Anterior, which is this magic little muscle responsible for stabilizing the shoulder blades and spreading the ribs when flexed.
It is located just underneath the armpit specifically connecting the inner edge of the shoulder blade to the rib cage. This often elusive muscle needs deliberate activation to build a strong connection during your yoga practice. If you are doing loads of Chatarunga, Downward Facing Dog, and Inversions and have recurring shoulder or neck problems it's likely that a weak Serratus causes your discomfort! Also, it can often lead to poor circulation, numbness of the arms, and Rotator cuff issues. Now that you know the problems that can arise when not activated, how do you strengthen it? My favorite exercise is what I have dubbed the Serratus Activation Challenge. Come onto your hands and knees for what's called in Forrest Yoga, Turbo Puppy. Don't let this innocent little name fool you; this is a huge strengthener! Hands are just in front of the shoulders; fingertips spread wide. Bend elbows straight down towards the floor until they are at a hover. Now, without moving the elbows press the hands into the mat and spread open the area between the shoulder blades. Feel for the widening, not rounding through the back. Exhale, pull shoulders away from the ears and squeeze elbows in towards each other and feel the chest muscles and upper back muscles turn on. Relax your neck completely. You can stay here on your knees just feeling what is known in the Forrest Yoga world as the "Wrap in Your Shoulders" or you can tuck the toes and lift the hips coming into Turbo Dog. Elbows stay reaching down and wrapping in. Relax your neck! Timing yourself with breath count, see how long you can keep your Serratus turned on. As soon as you feel it deactivate come down! Do this throughout your day and see just how many breaths you can keep the muscle turned on for! This activation will change your yoga practice for beginners to advanced practitioners! We will be talking about this and so much more in my Journey to Inversions Workshop on Saturday, June 25th 1:30-3:30 pm. We will be doing some muscle testing and bodywork to find out if you have a Chicken Wing or an Iron Fan. Are you ready?!