The levator scapulae is an upper back and neck muscle which originates on the transverse processes the first four cervical vertebrae (C1-4) and inserts on the superior angle of the shoulder blade which is its uppermost point.
The levator scapulae influences the movement of both the shoulder blade and the spine. Levator scapulae along with a number of other muscles—traps, pects, lats, and rhomboids— facilitate elevation, abduction and downward rotation of the shoulder blade.
Its main action, as its name suggests, is to elevate the scapula—along with the trapezius muscle, the levator scapulae shrugs the shoulders pulling up the inside edge of the shoulder blade. It also is involved with the rotation of the cervical spine as it helps to tilt and rotate the head to one side.
The head and neck should be able rotate about ninety degrees and tilt around forty-five degrees to the side. Unfortunately, there are so many ways to mess with levator scapulae. The most obvious one would be the everyday stress and tension of life that often manifests in elevated shoulders chronically contracting these muscles and leading to dysfunction.
Poor posture, of many types, often shortens the levator scapulae on both sides while repetitive actions like always holding a phone between the same ear and shoulder, or facing a computer monitor while looking down and to the side and what you are typing, will affect one side (which, trust me, will come back to haunt the other side as well).
Levator scapula issues abound in the yoga practice but nowhere more than the transition from plank to chaturanga. It doesn’t happen to everyone and it is not only levator scapulae involved but if your shoulders creep up towards your ears as you move in and out of chaturanga, levator scapulae will not be a happy muscle.