Do you carry a lot of tension in your upper shoulders and neck? If so, you are not alone! Neck and shoulder tension  is a chronic problem in our society. This may result from too many hours spent at a computer or in the car, weak shoulder blade muscles causing overuse,  or habits derived from an old injury. Performing this short, effective yoga sequence can help reduce tension in overused muscles, re-awaken muscles we normally don’t use, and open up the thoracic spine.
Begin by laying on your back with your knees bent. Take a moment to soften the abdomen and re-engage the diaphragm with your first few breaths. Bring your arms into a “T” with your elbows bent and hands pointing towards the ceiling. While consciously keeping your neck and upper shoulders relaxed, draw the middle and lower parts of the shoulder blades together on your back, and gently push your elbows into the floor. This will re-educate your shoulder blade muscles to engage while keeping the neck relaxed. Hold for 10 seconds, relax, and repeat.
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Next, keeping the shoulder blades gently engaged, slowly rotate the shoulder so that the top of the hand and forearm rests on the floor in a “cactus position.” Notice if your back begins to arch, and if so, gently press the lower rib cage into the floor.  This will increase the release in the upper thoracic spine. Once your arms are touching the floor, slowly rotate your legs from side to side moving into a gentle spinal twist.  Repeat 5-10 times each side.
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For the final phase of this sequence, return your legs to neutral with your arms in “cactus position.” Slowly make an “angel wing” motion on the floor, bringing your elbows towards your head while keeping your arms flat against the floor. This gentle motion will continue to re-educate the shoulder blade muscles while opening through the shoulders and upper back. Be sure to complete this sequence with a few moments of relaxation and re-intigration in savassana.
Written by Michelle Downing DPT, CFMT, OCS.

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