Ugh! Tight Shoulder Syndrome
My schedule recently became fairly steady which is awesome because it allows me to adopt some more routine activities. (I’m subject to shift work). One of the activities I decided to pursue is Pilates. At first it was a morning mat Pilates class and I was getting all of the exercises down and felt like it was a nice core workout. Then one day we had a sub (Nicole) who discussed taking our Pilates Practice to another level with the “Reformer.” So as you can guess, I decided to try the Reformer out. And I love it!
So now I go to a Reformer class once a week and the one cue that I noticed that I constantly get directed towards me from my instructor Natalie is to “relax my shoulders” or “pull my shoulders out of my ears.” Because she constantly says this to me, I try so hard to be aware of what my shoulders are doing. Every time, we reset to move to the next Reformer exercise, I make my mental note to check my shoulders. I also find it crazy because I pursue and teach yoga also and in yoga I don’t have this problem. It is just in Pilates. Weird!
The other night, I had an opportunity to get a complimentary massage and the masseuse had commented on how “tight my shoulders were.” She strongly encouraged me to get a “Deep Tissue Massage” in order to work the tightness out. Now after the massage, I felt wonderful and people even commented to me saying I looked good. I guess when there is a release in tension, you look better. Wow, so now I’m hearing it from a massage therapist and from regular people too.
I never knew or thought “my” shoulders were tight but apparently they are. I also don’t feel like I am stressed out either; however, due to my job, I do spend all day behind a computer so that is probably the cause of my shoulder tightness.
As a yoga instructor, I’m always focused on others. So now the question is how do I tackle this problem and maybe loosen them up for myself. Can I do this on my own in addition to possibly seeing a massage therapist? I decided to do some research on my own and it turns out that yes, yoga will help. Which is something I knew already, but just never really, really put the focus with regards to myself.
Relieving Tight Shoulders/Neck Pain with Yoga:
I know I’m not alone in that I apparently carry tension in my shoulders. I also work behind computers all day long and many of you are also in the same situation. Who isn’t?
As far as the shoulders and neck are concerned, the middle and low portions of the “Trapezius” muscle tend to be weak in a lot of us. Additionally, weak “Rhomboids” and “Latissimus Dorsi” muscles may contribute towards shoulder and neck pain. (See picture if you don’t know where these muscles are).
There are quite a few yoga poses that will help to strengthen as well as stretch the shoulders/upper back areas as well as alleviate pain. Also keep in mind that there is a difference between strong muscles and tight muscles. Apparently, I have the latter.
- Locust Pose: Starting in the prone position (on your belly) with palms facing up along your side, point and slightly rotate your toes towards your midline. Exhale and lift the upper torso off the floor and then the legs. Keep your neck aligned with your spine. Breathe!
2. Eagle Arms/Eagle Hug: You can certainly do Eagle Pose, but it is the arms in the Eagle position that stretch out the upper back and shoulders. To do this, bring both arms forward in front of you and parallel to the floor. Spread your “Scapula” bones wide across your back, cross and place one arm on top of the other and bend your elbows.
- To do hug, just place your hands on top of your shoulders. Lift the elbows.
- To do the arms, elbows are bent at approximately 90˚ and try to wrap the hands so that the palms are touching and thumbs are facing your face. Press the palms together and lift the arms, enjoy the stretch!
3. Cow Face Arms: Again, you can do Cow Face Pose, but it is the arms in the Cow Face position that stretch out the upper back. You may want a strap or towel for this!
- Start with the arms out in front of you and parallel to the ground.
- Rotate your “right” hand inward so that the thumb faces the floor. Next, take the “right” arm behind you and rotate the thumb towards the ceiling. Now take the “right” arm and bend the elbow placing the arm against your back.
- Inhale and lift your “left” arm up towards the ceiling. Rotate the palm towards the back of the room, lengthen, and as you exhale bend the arm down and seek the right hand.
- Switch it out: Left arm down, right arm up.
4. Chest Expansions: Can be pursued with a variety of poses such as Mountain, Warrior I, and Spinal Balance Extension Chest/Shoulder Stretch.
- Take your arms behind your and either clasp the hands or hold a strap/towel. Pull shoulders back and down. Lift chest and gaze towards the ceiling.
- For Spinal Balance Extension Chest/Shoulder Stretch: Start out on “All 4’s,”extend the “right” arm out with thumbs facing up. Extend the “left” leg out with foot flexed. Reach behind you, crossing over to find your Left ankle and lift chest and gaze upward. Or if that is to intense stay on the same side, but balancing might be tricky. Do the other side.
5. Neck Stretching Exercises: (All in Seated or Standing Mountain Pose)
- Turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Slightly tuck in the chin and enjoy how the stretch changes. Do the left side.
- Next drop your chin to your chest.
- Starting on the right, bring right ear to shoulder (not shoulder to ear). (If you like, you can intensify the stretch by placing your right hand on your head as you gently assist the ear to your shoulder. Flex your left hand. You can even slowly raise and lower your left arm as you pursue the stretch). Now do the other side.
- Bring right ear to shoulder and rotate chin towards your right collarbone. To intensify, take your gaze to your breastbone.
6. Upper Back/Shoulder Stretch: Raise your arms out in front of you, clasp your hands and rotate them so the palms face out. Gently round the shoulders and push your palms away from your body.
Stay in the poses and stretches for as long as you’d like!
These are just a few poses and stretches and know that there are others as well. So other than Yoga Poses and Stretches, another critical practice is to keep your shoulders away from your ears! Shoulders and Ears are not friends or as Natalie says “Shoulders are not earrings!” And if you can, those massages just might be a nice treat too!
~ Happy Relief and Namaste,