Typing, driving, cooking, gardening: almost everything we do encourages us to slide our shoulder blades up our backs and roll them forward. Over time, that can lead to stiff shoulders, sore upper backs and neck pain.
You can reverse this action, and move your shoulders back and down, with the help of one eight-foot yoga strap – or two shorter straps tied together.
First, take the strap behind your back, as close to your armpits as possible. It helps to bend forward and let gravity assist.
You want the strap to catch the bottom edge of your shoulder blades, or slightly higher. Hold one side of the strap in each hand and balance the length so there’s an equal amount on the right and left sides.
Now take each strap over its own shoulder, letting each end hang down your back. Adjust it so the strap across your back and the straps over your shoulders feel snug.
Then cross the straps behind your back.
Pull down on the straps, moving your hands towards the floor.
When you pull down, you should feel your shoulder blades move down your back, and from their bottom edges, press forward into your rib cage.
If the sensation isn’t like being tucked into a Victorian shoulder brace, the strap isn’t tight enough, or it’s too high in your back.
Now move your front ribs away from your tee shirt, towards the back of your body, but keep the width and lift of your shoulders.
Once you have the strap in place, stand in Tadasana (mountain pose). Move the tops of your thighs back. Bring your weight into your heels. Lift your chest, and enjoy the feeling of open and supported shoulders.
You can also experiment with doing sideways standing poses – triangle pose, Warrior II or Utthita Parsvakonasana work well – with the strap in place. Continue to use your hands on the straps to pull down. When you take one of the standing poses to the right side, pull gently forward with the right strap to increase the rotation in your ribcage.
Benefits: Like a yoga partner who is always ready to help out, the strap will reverse the forward motion of your shoulders and help set the feeling of good posture in your body’s memory.
Sequence: As a stand-alone practice, do this whenever you’d like to move your shoulders into alignment. Some students travel with a strap and use it on long flights to help prevent a slumped posture and back pain.
In a longer practice, stand in Tadasana with the strap on, then move slowly into your standing poses. Feel how working the shoulder blades with the strap helps you keep your chest lifted and open.
Ouch: Avoid this preparation if you have existing neck or shoulder injuries, at least until you can try it with your teacher’s supervision. If you feel pinching in your lower back, you’re over-arching. Move your thighs back, take your weight into your heels, and bring your front rib cage away from your tee shirt, towards your spine.
Sanskrit Corner: Say tah-DAHS-anna. Tada means mountain. Asana means pose.