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Stand tall by working your shoulder-blade stabilizers

Where in the world did they come from?

Where in the world did they come from?

I have fallen in love with Google Analytics. Every morning, it tells me how many people visited this blog the day before, how long they stayed on the site, what cities they live in – Vilnius! Abu Dhabi! Helsinki! Snellville! – and, if they came by Google search, what they searched for.

That’s why I know that someone arrived by typing: “Can you do Tadasana all of the time?”

The answer is in two parts, yes, and no.

An earlier post, Set a Timer and Stand in Tadasana, does imply that yes, you can: “You can practice Tadasana in the supermarket checkout line, at the bus stop, at a party, or at any other time you can pay attention to the way you are standing.”

Not only can you stand in Tadasana all the time, you should stand in Tadasana all the time. Bio-mechanically, it’s the best bet for your body. One goal of a yoga practice is to fundamentally realign the body so that it naturally holds itself in a healthy posture. Muscle imbalances are corrected, weak muscles strengthen, and the task of staying aligned with gravity becomes easier.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t be holding an exaggerated, overly conscientious posture. Physiotherapist Dean Smith, who practices on West 4th, epicentre of Vancouver yoga culture, calls this the “Lululemon posture,” with the sternum over-lifted, (resulting in a flattened thoracic spine) and the shoulders pulled too far back and down.

So how do you find the happy spot between slumping and constantly holding a Tadasana that looks like you’ve just enlisted in Yoga boot camp?

Keep your elbow on the floor as you lift your wrist.

Keep your elbow on the floor as you lift your wrist.

One approach is to strengthen postural muscles, so even when you’re not standing in full Tadasana, with all of the awareness that implies, you’re still not slumping.

Among the muscles that contribute to good posture, the lower-trapezius and serratus anterior, have a particular role to play in keeping the shoulder blades from lifting and rounding forward.  They  tend to be overstretched, weak and out of our awareness. But these are the muscles that will, if we work with them, happily hold our shoulder blades in place all day long

In the Yoga from the Inside Out workshop he taught in at Yoga on 7th this winter, Dean showed us two phenomenally useful exercises to strengthen these muscles.

Lie face down on your mat. Rest your forehead on your right hand. Bring your left arm out to the side, with your upper arm at 90 degrees from your shoulder and your forearm at 90 degrees from your elbow. Keep your left elbow on the floor as you lift your wrist away from the floor. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, release, and repeat three to five times or more. Change sides. Don’t be surprised to find a marked difference between the two sides.

Lift your head and both arms off the floor, keeping your elbows lower than your wrists.

Lift your head and both arms off the floor, keeping your elbows lower than your wrists.

Once you’ve experimented with one arm, try two. To avoid strain in your lower back, roll your back upper thighs outward until you feel your little toenail on the floor. Elongate your buttocks toward your heels. Keep your legs strong and press your sacrum down to the floor.

Now lift your chest and both arms away from the floor, with your elbows lower than your wrists. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, and repeat from three to five times.

Benefits: You will feel much more connection to your shoulder blades once you’ve tried this exercise. As you strengthen the muscles that stabilize your shoulders, you’ll find poses such as Pincha Mayruasana (elbow balance) and Chatturanga Dandasana (pushup, literally four-legged stick) easier to perform, with less “winging” out of your shoulder blades.

Sequence: Do these exercises at the beginning of a longer practice and notice how your awareness of your shoulders improves.  Or work them into your day as a stand-alone practice any time you can regularly take five minutes to work on your posture.

Ouch: If you feel strain in your neck, make sure you are elongating the back of your neck as you do the exercises. If that doesn’t take the strain away, try working with your wrist lower (in the one-arm variation) or both arms lower (in the two-arm variation).

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Catherine April 28, 2011, 7:31 pm

    Hi, well I googled “twisted pelvis Vancouver” and I got this page. Do your classes ever address twisted pelvises? thanx.

    • Eve April 29, 2011, 10:00 am

      Hi Catherine,
      At first it was a mystery to me too, since I didn’t remember writing about a twisted pelvis. But now I see it was just below, in the comments on a line of yoga clothes that would find our alignment for us.
      Google works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?
      In class I address keeping the pelvis aligned. The best way I know to correct a twisted pelvis is to see a good physiotherapist.

  • Traci Skuce March 30, 2010, 9:07 am

    I’ve had that thought too! A whole new line that shifts shoulder blades and straightens out a twisted pelvis. Quick. Get a patent!

    • Eve March 30, 2010, 12:08 pm

      Hi Traci:
      I had no idea posture clothes were such a widespread idea. And moving on to the twisty pelvis is brilliant!

  • Judie Glick March 29, 2010, 3:29 pm

    I think we should invent a clothing item that works the upper back like the straps do from your last lesson. Surprised that Lululemon isn’t there yet.

    • Eve March 29, 2010, 6:08 pm

      Hi Judy,
      I’ve been thinking about yoga props and their almost endless variety lately. Posture clothes would be a whole new departure. Of course, at some point, you’d have to take them off. . . .