Are your shoulders tight? If you're like most everyone I know, the answer is yes. We've created an entire culture that asks of us that we hunch forward for a good portion of our lives: over desks, computers, steering wheels. We hunch forward even when it's not necessary (yes, you CAN chop vegetables without hunching over the kitchen counter). This frequently assumed position is detrimental to our shoulder function.
Try swinging your arms in a circle that extends in front, overhead, and behind you without moving your torso. Most of us find our arms don't really make the backward arc of that circle. Instead, the arms travel out to the sides and only slightly to the back. What is hindering that range of motion? Our habitual misalignment of the upper body. The shoulder blades have begun to pull wider apart, no longer lying flat on the back near the spine. They probably sit at an angle as well, making the collar bones curve forward and the look collapsed.
The solution we hear is "Stand up straight." Well, that is the solution, but not the way most of us have interpreted the instruction. Most people will hear those three words of admonition and promptly pinch our shoulders back, thrust the ribs forward, and lift the chest. While that does give the appearance of being vertical, in that the shoulders and head seem to be stacked correctly, it actually doesn't change the problem, it hides it. It even creates a new problem by tightening back muscles at the place where the ribs thrust forward.
So how does one work on aligning this area correctly? You can start with the feet and build up. (I've covered this in the videos Sit Less Move More - Stacking Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.) While that has overall importance, sometimes you want something specific for an area. In Eischens Yoga, we call that Transformational Work. Transformational work is done with a partner (I wrote about this some years ago). But there are other ways to work in a pose if you don't have a partner handy. In today's video, I've got three different ways for you to work in Prone Mountain. (If you don't know Prone Mountain, watch this or even this.)
For fun, check your arm swing. Try Prone Mountain a few times using one of the options given. Then try your arm swing again and see if there is any change.
The more time spent countering all that hunching over, the stronger you will get and the easier it will be to actually stand up straight. And when the shoulder blades and upper body get aligned, you just might notice the other benefits of this work such as improved range of shoulder motion, greater ease in breathing, less tension in the neck and shoulders, and regaining some lost height.
Next time you hear someone say, "Stand up straight," don't think "pinch shoulders, thrust ribs." Think "arms back."
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.