Developed by John Friend in 1997, Anusara yoga combines spirituality with a system of biomechanical principles derived from Iyengar yoga. In this approach, you perceive that everything in the world is an expression of divine love and beauty. When performing Anusara poses, you use five universal principles of alignment – opening to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral and organic energy. To refine your poses, you employ secondary alignment principles, including the shoulder loop.
The Shoulder Loop: What It Is
Among the seven energy loops in your body is the shoulder loop. It starts in the upper palate, flowing backward to the base of your skull. It continues to the bottom of your shoulder blades. At this point, your head moves back a notch and your shoulder blades drop down. The path of the loop then arcs forward and upward. It pulls the base tips of your shoulder blades in and upward toward your heart. The loop ends where it started at your palate, lifting your chest and opening your throat.
The shoulder loop serves dual functions. First, it aligns the upper body with the spine as the central axis. The loop opens your chest to your breathing cycle and balances your head on your spine without tensing your neck. For many people, this area of the body is typically slumped over from working at computers or sitting all day. Next, the shoulder loop aligns your arms with your shoulder joints, stabilizing the collarbones and shoulder blades. The loop gives your shoulders the widest range of motion without risking injury to your neck or shoulders.
By integrating three movements of your shoulders, the loop aligns and opens your shoulder girdle and chest. These combined actions result in opening the space of your heart. The first action is drawing your shoulder blades down your back. The second action involves pressing the lower tips of your shoulder blades into your body and toward the bottom of your heart. Lifting and laterally broadening your chest comprises the third action. As this last action is completed, your head and neck naturally align with the central axis of your body.
Engaging the Shoulder Loop
Anusara yoga’s alignment principles may seem mechanical, if not abstract, until you use them in specific poses. For example, perform an Upward-Facing Dog pose and concentrate on the shoulder loop. Lie on your belly with your forehead touching the floor. Place your hands by your sides of your chest, palms turned down and fingers pointing forward. Inhale and open to grace, filling your body with the light of your breath. Feel the sides of your ribcage lengthen and rise to your shoulders. While inhaling, lift your head, shoulders and trunk. Engage your shoulder loop and lift your pelvis and thighs forward and slightly up and off the floor. Arch your head back, pulling your shoulders down and toward the heart. Hold the finished pose for five to 10 breaths. On an exhalation, bend your elbows and slowly lower yourself back down onto your belly.