My husband says that I am the master of the “feist.” True, I am opinionated, and can put up a good fight. I must point out, that I try to be respectful and not give my ‘2 cents’ when it is not asked for and will knowingly not be received. I have been reflecting on my fighting spirit. Although I am fortunate for this quality, I also contemplate how much fight is needed? My sign is the Pisces after all, and this zodiac sign shows 2 fish swimming in opposite directions! However, as long as my 2 fish are swimming at the same speed it should keep me in balance, right?
Resistance is very important for sustaining balance in life. If there is no resistance, there is lack of challenge, play, growth, and in my opinion, freedom. In this following reflection, I reflect on how much resistance is needed in our bodies, in particular, to connect between the arms and low back when the arms are stretched over head.
Why am I choosing to reflect on this…
1 -Personally, I have had much trial and error with finding this connection and I will share what I have discovered and give you some food for thought to help you find your best connection.
2 – I feel that the cue “pull your shoulders down the back” is not only over used it’s misunderstood and used at inappropriate times.
*Please note – The shoulders require a variety of different cues to connect it optimally depending on the plane the arm is in in relation to the spine.
3 – I feel too many people are causing more harm to their bodies trying to keep their shoulders pulled down. There is a difference between someones shoulders being chronically lifted and strained due to stress compared to someone shrugging their relaxed shoulders to their ears to encourage side body length and to decompress their spine.
The following is some background on my personal journey:
I broke my back when I was 7. In my recovery, I was told not to participate in gymnastics or dance etc. and just to swim. I continued to swim well into my college years. As I look back, although I will forever be grateful for my swimming and the ability to stretch my body and the feeling it gives me, I also feel, I was chronically using my shoulders and not enough of my center.
Shortly after college, when I started getting more into fitness (weight lifting, fitness classes, kick box…you name it I did it). I learned quickly that my lack of core strength in combination with my hyper mobile shoulders did not go well together. At that time, I was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome and having pain and numbness in my arms and hands that would often wake me up in the middle of the night. From this experience, I realized that the shoulder joint is complex, and it was essential that I needed to educate myself , especially, if I wanted to continue to do what I loved most…to move!
Having the desire to understand and feel better, I was fortunate to have gotten into Anusara Yoga, an alignment based yoga linked with heart themes. I first learned how to align the shoulder joint optimally through my first Anusara Yoga training back in 2004.
Below are some general points I learned that, I think, are worth considering when your arms are stretched up over head.
NO DOUBT, reading the following is one thing, seeing and feeling another, AND I myself am a visual learner. Therefore, I am happy to demonstrate my thoughts and words in person.
*Also, please note – The following does not apply if you have lack of shoulder mobility and it either hurts to bring your arms over head and/or you cannot retract your arm bones(gently yet firmly) back in the shoulder socket and feel your shoulder blades on your back. If this is the case you need to work instead with mobility exercises such as sternum drops and arm circles with your back supine on a foam roller. Need some more ideas?
1. Lifting and Shrug shoulders up to your ears in effort to lengthen your side body.
2. Keep the length of your sides and engage your arm bones back in the socket, this may require you to have your arms more forward of your shoulders.
3. Keep pulling to the mid line. In other words, when the arms are stretched overhead(Palms facing one another shoulder distance apart), keep some isometric energy between the hands and forearms to help keep width and space in the chest and upper back.
4. “KIDNEY LOOP” The below is Doug Keller’s (amazing teacher) definition –
The “kidney loop” starts at the base of the abdomen, just below the navel, and lifts up and draws back from just below the kidneys, taking the lower ribs back while creating length in the side body. With this action, the kidney loop makes room for the expansion of the diaphragm in the back of the body. It moves upward to the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and forward through the heart or center of your chest. From there it draws downward through the Xiphoid processs (bottom tip of sternum) and solar plexus as it returns back to the point right above the navel. the breath to transform the inner landscape of the body.
5. Keep all the above actions and stretch. Use inhalation to create space and length and the exhalation to engage kidney loop and mid-line. Give equal attention to both the inhale and exhale and their actions.
Keeping all the actions mentioned above in balance is the “practice.”
Back to my personal journey…
For many years, I believe, in my efforts to build strength, and find better connection from my low back to my hands when stretched overhead, I forgot to first find length (the one thing I really knew how to do well). I therefore, lost my balance and as a result, I was putting too much pressure and stress on my trapezius and levator scapula muscles when my arms were positioned over head.
Therefore, is the cue, “pull your shoulders down the back” always appropriate? I argue, absolutely not, especially when you have mobility in your shoulder joint, and your arms are over your head. Pulling your shoulders down in effort to find connection, may, instead, cause more tightness and less space in ones shoulders and back, leading to a dysfunctional and not sustainable connection over time. In general, this is not a great cue.
Now movement in Pilates is a little more upbeat than an Anusara Yoga class, however the same alignment principles apply.
How much resistance do you actually need? You are the ultimate decision maker! Hopefully you are present enough to listen to what your body is telling you, and humble enough to adapt to how much resistance you require. I hope you don’t allow your needed RESISTANCE to pull you down. Never compromise your posture, and when in doubt, prioritize your length! Continue to breath and use your inhales to find more inner space and your exhales to find more center as you work towards your ultimate goal of finding more connection in your life relationships, and of corse, your hands to low back.