Excessive Carrying Angle of the Elbow
A carrying angle is a lateral deviation in the bones of the elbow joint. When your elbows are at shoulder-width, your hands will be wider, sometimes MUCH wider. Some people will have a greater angle in one arm than the other.
Wherever your own hands are when your biceps are parallel, that is where your hands will land on the Earth for ANY weight bearing pose. Your hands will only come more narrow than this for forearm postures like Dolphin and Forearm Balance.
When the opposing muscles of any joint contract against one another in equanimity to create stabilization. Neither group overpowers the other, they meet in the middle. i.e. The quadriceps and hamstrings fire at the same time to keep the knee from either bending deeply or locking out completely in standing postures.
The Greater Trochanter is a bony landmark on the top of the femur and provides an attachment point for many of the hip muscles. Because so many muscles attach here, and its importance to our alignment principles, it's a good idea to know how to find it.
Place your fingertips, pointing down to the floor, on the sides of your pelvis. Slide them down past the muscle bellies until you land on a hard, bony protrusion. If your muscles are particularly hard or tight, you may need to press one hip out to the side slightly to accentuate the trochanter a bit.
This is the part of the thigh bone we like to get lined up over our ankles for our strongest stance in Mountain Pose.
Law of Compensation
In any movement system, when force is applied and meets resistance at one point, that force will be transferred to the next available mobile point. For example, the hip joint is limited in extension by strong ligaments. If force is applied to take the extension further than the ligaments allow, the next mobile point (the SI Joint or Lumbar Spine) will move instead, taking you into a backbend.
The Lumbar Lordosis is the Curvature of the low back spine. It opposes the Kyphotic curve found in the rib spine (Thoracic) and Sacrum. The lumbar lordosis appears somewhat more defined in women, less because of the actual angle of curvature, but because it is contrasted by the shape of the pelvis and gluteus muscles. The female pelvis is shaped so that it appears to be tilted forward even when it is neutral. The front pelvic points (ASIS) are typically set lower than the back pelvic points (PSIS). In men, the pelvic bones are built higher with a shape that's more square than sloping. Their ASIS is usually near level with their PSIS. In addition, because of the height of their pelvis, most men (but certainly not all) have rather flattish, sloping glutes, while many ladies exhibit higher, broader, more rounded glutes. The ladies also have a more sharply angled sacrum which points out further behind us. To the eye, these rounded glutes seem to accentuate the curvature of the spine, giving the illusion that the ladies are collapsing in an over-curved low back.
I will write many articles in time regarding this fallacy, but for now, please accept that the curve of the lumbar spine is by design and shouldn't be fiddled with. It should be strengthened, engaged and stabilized, not flattened, flexed, pressed against the floor or eliminated in any way. It's there for a reason. Many reasons.
Male Pelvis vs. Female Pelvis
When discussing the shoulder, we need to recognize there are two distinct joints at play. The Glenohumeral Joint, the ball and socket joint where the arm bone meets the shoulder blade, and the Scapulothoracic Joint, which we will usually refer to as the Shoulder Girdle.
The Shoulder Girdle is a complex made up of the collar bone (Clavicle) and the shoulder blade (Scapula), and all the muscles and ligaments that hold it together and make it move.
It's important to understand that the Shoulder Girdle attaches to the core skeleton (axial skeleton; includes the skull, spine, ribs, sternum) at one small joint: the Sternoclavicular Joint. This small joint where the clavicle attaches to the sternum and first rib is very mobile, and is responsible for the majority of the range of motion available in the upper extremity. If you place your right fingers on the left sternoclavicular joint and move your left shoulder around in circles, you'll feel just how much movement occurs here.
The shoulder blade attaches to the far end of the collar bone at the acromioclavicular joint or AC. The AC is mostly immobile, but does have some very slight movement under great force. Because of this firm attachment, the movements of the collar bone and scapula are linked hand in hand. Where one goes, the other follows, working as a unit whenever we move our arm.
The muscles associated with the shoulder girdle are:
Trapezius — elevation, depression & upward rotation
Levator Scapula — elevation, slight downward rotation
Serratus Anterior — abduction, retraction
Rhomboid — adduction, slight downward rotation
Pectoralis Minor — protraction
Subclavius — depression of clavicle
Though other muscles attach to the scapula, they generally move the arm bones, not the scapula directly.
Turn Out of the Hands
In accordance with the principle that we are transferring weight efficiently from our hand bones to our forearm bones, we need these bones to be pointing in the same direction. For most people, the index finger will point forward instead of the middle finger pointing forward. Some people will need to turn out even more. You can find your turn out by reaching your arms out in front of you so the biceps are truly parallel and examining the line of your own forearm straight out through your hand. Now bend the wrist deeply into extension without deviating to one side or the other. Now put your hands on the ground, Table style. If you soften your elbows and externally rotate the arms, they’ll find the ideal alignment for the shoulder. If, through this movement, the index knuckles pop up off the floor, or you experience a pinching on the thumb-side of the wrist, then more turn out is needed. Rotate the palms outward just to the point where the index knuckle can root down to the floor with ease. Again, we are looking for agreement in the alignment of the forearm bones and hand bones. It may look like the fingers point out a lot, maybe too much, but try your downward facing dog from here, notice if the lines of force feel more efficient and the wrist bones take less weight.
Even when bearing weight the hand should eventually look like to effort is being applied. Hasta Bandha activation makes the hand appear weightless.
Hasta Bandha is the hand container. When we bear weight in the hand we must activate Hasta Bandha in order to protect the small joints of the wrist and hand, and also tap into the energetic relationship between the gravity of Earth and the strength of our upper extremity and core. A strong Hasta Bandha results in a rising in the center of the palm, similar to the arches of the foot, and might resemble a suction cup. The muscles of the forearms are integral to this action, as it is achieved to some extent by the counteractions of the finger/wrist flexors and extensors. Without Hasta Bandha, we feel very heavy and at a disadvantage with relation to gravity, with it however, we can feel light and buoyant.
Physically, we want to emphasize our weight bearing in the knuckles and fingertips instead of the wrist bones. Particularly, we should focus our effort to the index and middle fingers, for they can find the best alignment with the forearm bones and will translate our weight with the most efficiency.
The thumb should be light and not extended fully, keep it softly pulled in toward the palm. The reason for this is two-fold. First, the joint between the first metacarpal and the carpals (between the hand bone and wrist bone) is a saddle joint. A saddle joint is meant to move on just two planes, acting like two saddles stacked on one another that could glide forward and back or side to side, but rotation is limited by the shape. Second, the joint itself is not aligned with the the rest of the hand; it is set in front of the other metacarpals (hand bones) AND it is angled to face a different direction that the other metacarpals. Look at your palm, face-up — the pads of the fingers face a different direction than the pad of the thumb. If we extend the thumb all the way, Hasta Bandha is difficult to engage and we end up dumping weight into the saddle joint. At this angle, the bones twist and rub against each other in degenerative ways. Since this is typically one of the first places we develop arthritis, it is in our best interest to keep it aligned and safe while weight bearing.
Like all of the bandhas, which contain the prana (energy) which flows through the body, Pada (foot) Bandha contains the energy of the foot and lower limb. In standing postures, Pada Bandha is essential to the functional activation of Mula Bandha, The Root Container. They work together to create a strong, stable base on which the upper body can act or hold steady — whatever is called for.
Physically, the arches of the feet need to be active in order to access Pada Bandha. This is asking a lot in a world where most students where shoes daily and have little muscular support for their arches. You can activate it in different ways, but I find that most people have so little awareness of their feet, much less fine motor control, that they have a hard time accessing the "four points of the feet" in order to raise the medial arch.
This diagonal effort lifts all three of the arches of the foot, better aligns the ankle bone over the heel bone, and helps balance the inward and outward, forward and backward stresses on the foot. With the bony alignment and muscular actions in place, the effort of Pada Bandha can be achieved — a sense of the edges of the foot sinking down as the center of the foot rises. The inner ankles come alive and a connection can be felt between the lower leg, thigh and pelvis. It may feel muscular or fascial at first, but as you become more adept and can use less muscular intervention, eventually it becomes a subtle yet powerful thread of awareness from Earth to core. As if you have plugged into the essential nature of gravity and it is aiding you in your work. The feet appear nearly effortless in their posture, but dynamic in their energy.
Their are so many variations in foot structure, that teaching Pada Bandha can be very complex. I've tried to simplify it down to the most basic instruction — let the weight shift back into the heels, then actively press the forefoot down with your muscles (as if you would stand on your toes, but with 10% of the effort). Ground through the outer heel and then press through the mound of the big toe (the knuckle where the toe meets the foot, not the toe itself).