Awareness of Shoulder Joint - Sensing Freedom

For this month's focus on the shoulder joint, we're excited to feature Jayne Mielo and Holly Curtis from the Nia Training Faculty.

Be sure to register for the April 1st telecourse with Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas and Nia Trainer Kelle Rae Oien.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

My dad was an avid and excellent golfer. He used to get me in the backyard to “chip” balls into a hat, and to practice putting. From time to time he’d even take me to the driving range. Over the years he taught me a lot about hitting the ball, keeping my eye on the ball, and using my body to power my swing. Very early on I learned the importance of having good body mechanics. Good body mechanics meant success and the reduction of injury. I’d watch my dad with great finesse make tiny shifts in how he held the club, stood, kept his shoulders down and used his whole body. Golfing was not only a dance of his mind it was also a dance of every joint in his body. For most golfers the shoulder joint is one they don’t want to have any imbalance in as it will compromise the integrity of their swing.

Think of the shoulder joint as not one but four joints that include:

  1. Sternoclavicular joint that creates the articulation you sense between your collar bone (clavicle), the fulcrum for your shoulder blades (scapula), and your breast bone (sternum).
  2. Scapulothoracic joint that creates the articulation you sense between the shoulder blades and your ribs.
  3. Acromioclavicular joint, which is a rigid joint that connects the collarbone and scapula (shoulder blades).
  4. Glenohumeral joint, which is a ball and socket that you know as the shoulder joint.

Besides these articulation points a healthy shoulder joint must coordinate your shoulder blade muscles, chest muscles, rotator cuff, and the upper arm muscles. Whether you’re a golfer or not, an imbalance in any of these muscles can end up leaving you in pain, having too much or too little mobility and stability. Misuse can even leave you with a frozen shoulder caused from ligaments and a joint capsule that are too tight. Bottom line is, having body literacy of the shoulder joint is critical to upper body comfort, and to the pleasure and joy you experience in your body on and off the dance floor and golf course.


  • Turning your palms up opens the shoulder joint and is the proper technique for raising your hands above your head.
  • Turning palms down closes the shoulder joint and creates stability in resistant power moves.
  • Varying the direction of the palms keeps the muscles of your shoulder joint activated and balanced.
  • Using the trunk of your body to power hand and arm moves helps protect your shoulder joint.
  • Activate rotation of the upper arm bone to sustain a healthy shoulder joint.

Jayne Mielo, Nia Trainer, says:

Imagine a six-year old spinning her arm around like a whirligig in a wind storm. We fondly refer to this as “The Isabel Wind-Up” from our Nia for Kids classes. Little Isabel smiles wildly, bracing herself on the ground, her arm zipping round and round her shoulder. While I don’t know what Isabel is feeling during her wind-up, I witness great power, strength, ease of motion and most of all, unbound freedom with sparkling eyes of joy. Herein lies the beauty and structure of the shoulder joint designed for moving.

One of the most mobile and intricate joints in the body, the shoulder joint represents much more. With its ball and socket design, the arm bone has a chalice-like cup to rest into and express from. The humerus arm bone can move around many axises in nearly all directions. The shoulder joint allows for movement of the shoulder girdle: up, down, inward, outward, and circular. These movements affect our emotions and how we present ourselves to the world. Our shoulder joints allow us to carry, lift, push, pull, caress, comfort, work, and play. From this fulcrum of power, we express confidence and project strength and courage. From this delicate structure, we envelope loved ones in embrace, parry in protection, move inward for healing, and close down in fear.

Artists, poets, painters, sculptors, here and gone, have rendered the shoulder in a rich variety of expressions encapsulating the breadth of human triumph and suffering. From the Hellenistic age of sculpture, the Victory of Samothrace - Nike with her shoulders offset to wings extended wide, symbolizing the epitome of strength and grace taking flight, to the Dying Gaul defeated with despairing shoulder turned inward and his fading body propped up on this junction to his right arm. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Creation of Adam with God and Adam’s reaching out, fingertips nearly touching transmitting the essence of humanity and divinity simultaneously arrayed upon the complexity of the shoulders portrayed there.

While my body may not mimic the speed of Isabel’s Wind-Up, I am reminded and inspired by the infinite possibilities of living in a sacred body. I understand the power and possibility that comes from just this one joint.


  • Keep your shoulder joints healthy by moving them (and all of your joints) through their full range of motion every day. Follow the Nia 13 Joints Exercise on page 12 of The Nia Technique Book
  • Strengthen the muscles supporting your shoulder joints using Nia's FloorPlay Cycle in class, strengthening and conditioning your arm muscles by pushing and resisting the floor.
  • Practice Nia hand techniques to relieve tension in the shoulders and neck.
  • Choose simple, whole foods for healthy bones and joints. Omega 3 fatty acids help lubricate the joints. Sardines, wild salmon, walnuts, and ground flax seed are excellent choices. Add calcium for strong bones with kale, broccoli, figs, almonds, and Brazil nuts. Soak in some sunshine for vitamin D to aid the body in calcium absorption. Enjoy fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of colors for essential vitamins C and E. For more guidance, consider working with an integrative nutritionist.


History of Art: the Western Tradition, Horst Janson and Anthony Janson, Publisher: Prentice Hall
Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, David Coulter, Publisher: Body and Breath

Holly Nastasi, Nia Trainer, says:

I am captivated by the complex and mobile shoulder joint, known as the glenohumoral joint. This is where the scapula and humerus come together. The design of this joint allows for a wide range of motion and direction, making the arms and hands the most creative aspect of our bodies. Understanding the anatomy of this joint is a great step towards self-healing any shoulder injury or for conditioning to avoid injury.
The scapula, or shoulder blade, has a shallow cup on the upper lateral side known as the glenoid fossa. The humerus, or upper arm bone, articulates with the scapula by nestling into the glenoid fossa. In fact, the surface area of the head of the humerus is two to three times larger than the fossa. As this fossa is very shallow, the shoulder joint depends heavily on the surrounding muscles on the back and chest to hold it in place.

A synovial capsule, encasing the joint and keeping it lubricated, surrounds the shoulder joint. The capsule is loose and has many folds, especially at the bottom. This looseness allows tremendous range of motion, but does little to stabilize the joint. Strong support around the joint is needed. That is the job of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that come together to articulate the shoulder.

At the deepest level, there are three strong ligaments holding this joint together. The immediate four muscles that reinforce the joint are known collectively as the rotator cuff. Enveloping and originating from the scapula, the tendons of these muscles cross over the joint to attach to the head of the humerus. The lower part of the joint is not supported by the rotator cuff, which increases the instability of the joint in the lower range of motion. Muscles of the chest and back also attach to the upper arm bone, adding necessary strength to the joint. These include the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi. An imbalance in the strength of the chest and the back can pull the shoulder joint forward, creating a hunched over posture. The reverse is also true.

The long head of the biceps and the short head of the triceps, which run along the upper arm bone, act as suspension ties to hold the arm against the shoulder. Their tendons blend with the synovial capsule to add support to the joint. The entry of the biceps tendon into the capsule is a very common point of irritation. Usually raising the arms above the head with the palms facing down causes this. Positioning the palms up is a primary technique to maintain the health of the shoulder joint.


  • Practice arm bone rotation to strengthen the rotator cuff.
  • Practice punches and blocks to add agility and stability to the joint.
  • Practice push-ups or plank position to increase the power in the shoulder.
  • Practice freedance, adding full range of motion arm movements, to add mobility to the joint and improve posture.


Anatomy of Movement, Blandine Calais-Germaine, Eastland Press, 1991
The Body Moveable, David Gorman, Ampersand Press, 1981