There is one instruction that is always useful, in every single yoga pose.
It goes like this, “Take your shoulder-blades down your back”.
Shoulders are always trying to go up towards the neck, in virtually everyone. Most people are very aware, when they take a minute to think about it, that they could relax tension from their shoulders at just about any minute of the day. And everyone also knows that when they let go of tension in the shoulders, they tend to drop or fall “back down”.
It’s just a fact of life that shoulders are always creeping up towards the neck, but when you practice yoga poses you’ll see this tendency actually increases, which is not good.
There are many problems associated with tight and elevated shoulders, including neck pain, upper back pain, nerve issues into the arms and hands, headaches, and many more. As well, when you let those shoulders go where they will, you end up developing an unattractive posture, the kind where eventually the upper back rounds and the head comes forward.
Yoga is a perfect place to take care of this issue, because every time you make any movement in any yoga pose, the shoulders will give you an opportunity to “train them”. It’s astounding really, how if you pay close attention you’ll see how frequently the shoulders lift up.
The first thing to understand is that the shoulders are the top of the upper arm bones. Most everybody knows that the shoulder is a ball and socket joint, and the top of the upper arm is the “ball” of the shoulder joint.
Next, familiarize yourself with the shoulder blades. They are the flat bones that rest on your upper back ribs, to either side of the spine. They’re frequently called the “wings” because in some arm positions they stick out from the back.
When you’re practicing yoga postures, it’s helpful to understand the difference between the shoulders and the shoulder blades because they should be doing different actions, at the same time.
The shoulders should be rotating outwardly. They typically roll in towards the chest, which narrows and collapses the chest, so we do the opposite and roll the shoulders away from the chest.
To get the shoulders down, focus on the shoulder blades. Put your mind where you think the shoulder blades are, and slide those shoulder blades down your back. It’s like sliding two plates straight down the flat surface of the back. When they stop and you can’t move them down anymore, maintain that position, wait for a bit, keep your concentration there, and then see if you can subtly descend them any more.
Careful attention will show that the second your mind wanders, those shoulder blades creep back up as far as they can, and you’ve lost what you had gained. It’s as if they’re set on a constant path of trying to hike back up, all of the time.
That’s what makes them such a good focus for yoga, because when we practice yoga postures we have to learn to take awareness to one place in the body, create the correct action, and then maintain that action as we take awareness to another part of the body and do the right thing there.
This process builds coordination in concentration, and it also gives endless possibilities for improving your yoga poses and therefore getting better results from them, because the more “parts” we can bring into alignment, the better the “whole” becomes. In yoga that means that the whole body will function better as you get all of it’s parts in line, and it also means that the process involved in doing so will help calm your mind and emotions and bring your “experience” of yourself to a more “centered” place.
Keep an inner eye on those shoulder blades, and in each and every yoga asana, keep them moving down the back!