Pose of the Month: Crocodile Pose
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!
Main Elements of Crocodile Pose
Shoulder Girdle Stability
Most Challenging Aspects
Staying engaged and lifted from crown of the head to heels
Keeping head in line with the spine
Avoiding “sagging” toward the floor
Using shoulder strength rather than “hanging out” in the shoulder joint
Avoiding the heads of the shoulders dropping below 90 degrees
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!
An Anatomy Review
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.
Poses to Focus on 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.
As we move into Plank and Crocodile, pay attention to the students’ alignment. Notice where cueing awareness can create a stronger and better supported experience for them. Oftentimes, just by drawing their attention to the sensations in the body, you may notice that students will correct misalignments easily.
Common misalignments are:
• hips sagging toward the floor, not activating the core
• shoulders dropping lower than the elbows, many students “hover” with the heads of the shoulders just above the floor
• shoulders hunching up by the ears or rolled in and down toward the floor
• pushing the head towards the floor, so it is out of alignment with the spine
• lack of dynamic tension in the legs
• locking elbows
Moving into the Pose
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.
Now for some props! Props can help students experience the alignment (or misalignment) of their shoulders, as well as their torsos. Here are a few ways to prop Crocodile.
- Have students grab two yoga blocks and place them at the top of their mats. For most students, positioning them on the tallest side works best. The blocks should be slightly in front of the fingertips so that when students lower into Crocodile, they can rest their shoulders on the blocks. The blocks should be high enough so that the shoulders don’t dip below the line of the elbows. This is a great way for students to gain awareness of how high Crocodile Pose actually is!
- Blocks can help prevent the hips from sagging towards the floor (like a hammock). Placing blocks under the hip points will add stability and awareness. The middle block height is likely the best here, but for some, the shortest side of the block may be better. Beginning in Full Plank and keeping a straight line from the crown of the head all the way to the heels, engage the core, and shift the weight forward so shoulders move beyond the wrists. Begin to lower down so the hip points can rest gently on the blocks. Of course the head of the shoulders should not dip below the elbows in this variation either.
- A bolster under the whole torso, instead of blocks at the hip points, can make Crocodile even more accessible for newer students. Lower down so that the torso can rest on the bolster and the front of the shoulders face forward instead of down. Keep the gaze slightly forward instead of looking down.
Remind your students that learning Crocodile Pose can takes weeks, months, even years! However, a Baby Crocodile done well is more stabilizing, offers more benefits, and is safer than a poorly supported Crocodile that falls apart as students lower. Encourage students to enjoy the feeling of building strength and knowing they are doing a great job!
I’d love to hear from you! What’s your favorite cue way to help students build strength for Crocodile? How do you encourage students to be patient with the process? Please share below!