IIf this pose seems challenging, that’s because it IS! Here’s how we can cue Crocodile so our students enjoy its benefits without risk to the shoulder girdle.
Crocodile Pose is one of the most challenging poses to execute well with strength and safety. So often, we see students “dump” into the pose, or “hunch and wing” as they try to hold it. Then we see the die-hard “hover-1-inch-away-from-the-floor” crowd. What’s a teacher to do? How on earth do we prepare our students adequately for the strength required and then cue them well so they enjoy all the benefits without inviting risk to the shoulder girdle? Let’s explore!
Begin with the YogaFit standard Warm-Up (standing or supine) and a few rounds of Kneeling Sun Salutations (with Kneeling Crocodile and Cobra) to warm the body. Stay with the Kneeling variation so we don’t allow students to reinforce poor movement patterns in Crocodile or Upward-Facing Dog. Be sure to include Chest Expansion in the warm-up to release any tension in the shoulders. Remind students to keep shoulders back and down here!
Honestly, in my experience, not that many students are aware of how the shoulder works. So, take some time to explain the difference between the shoulder joint and the shoulder girdle. The short of it is this: the shoulder joint is where the arm attaches to the shoulder blade (like a ball and socket) and it’s what moves the arm in every direction. The shoulder girdle is what moves the shoulder blades up-down-forward-back.
The actions of the shoulder joint are flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, horizontal flexion, horizontal extension, and circumflexion. Reaching the arms forward, back and all around will help students to feel the shoulder joint move.
The actions of the shoulder girdle are elevation, depression, protraction, retraction, upward rotation and downward rotation. Hunching and releasing shoulders, hugging forward and opening shoulders back allows students to feel the actions of the shoulder girdle.
Bring students onto All Fours. Demonstrate for students how to do “Shoulder Push Ups,” during which they allow themselves to sink into the shoulders (retraction) and then spread shoulders wide across the back (protraction). After doing several rounds, ask them to find that place between the two movements where the shoulder girdle feels supported from the front and back at the same time. Discuss how this is the same strong support needed for Crocodile Pose. Have students press back into Child’s Pose to rest.
Next, let’s cue students through the under-appreciated Kneeling Plank to Crocodile series. Have them draw forward into Kneeling Plank and draw their awareness to the shoulder girdle, encouraging them to find the place of support they experienced in the All Fours Push Up. Then, have students shift slightly forward on their knees so their shoulders are over fingertips (rather than wrists). Begin with bending at the elbows, engaging the core, and lowering only one inch while focusing on the support of the shoulder girdle. Let’s call this “Baby Crocodile.” Do 3 to 5 repetitions. Don’t allow the front of the shoulders to dip down; keep them pointing forward.
It is well worth students practicing Baby Crocodile exclusively until they can do the pose without loss of shoulder girdle support. Once they master Baby Crocodile by lowering one inch, encourage them to lower another inch. Continue this progression until students are able to lower to a 90-degree bend in the elbow with support for the shoulder girdle. Caution them not to go beyond a 90-degree angle.
Once students feel secure in Baby Crocodile, introduce this next phase: Baby Crocodile coming from Full Plank (knees lifted). Again, invite them to lower one inch and then release their knees to the floor to transition to Cobra, or flip the feet for Upward Facing Dog. When they feel ready, encourage them to keep lowering one inch at a time—with good alignment—until they are able to lower all the way to 90 degrees.