// Take a load off your shoulders

by George Dovas

The sad reality of modern life is that a huge percentage of people spend hours sitting in front of a computer screen, or slouched in the ‘comfort’ of the couch.

As electronic devices and screens seize our awareness, trapezius muscles unwittingly ‘trap’ us into holding positions that lead to perpetual tension and stiffness in the shoulders. Over time this tension can make us feel like we are carrying a load on our shoulders. Constantly rounded shoulders also cause the muscles of the upper back to lengthen and weaken – so people end up with tight shoulders that are also very weak.

It is commonly said that yoga is more than exercise – and it is. Yoga helps to create an awareness of ourselves, and given this awareness we can do something about what we discover. If we feel weighed down, then we can do something to take the load off and enjoy life unencumbered by the strains of daily living. If we notice weakness in the body, we can embrace a gentle strengthening.

How is this possible? With the use of yoga postures, intelligent practice and some props that help us to get there. following is a simple sequence of yoga postures designed to maintain mobility, increase flexibility and build strength around the shoulder joint. Ideal for incorporating into your yoga class or for performing at home, it is a non-intimidating and ‘do-able’ routine and, importantly, can be performed in 15 minutes, a valuable benefit in our time-precious world.

These poses can be performed as a sequence, or individual poses can be selected and added to the end of your own exercise routine.

A yoga strap is used in some poses to help achieve a depth in the pose that otherwise wouldn’t be able to be achieved. The strap allows you to work with better alignment and stay longer in the pose than you would otherwise be able to. If your participants do not have a yoga strap, a belt that you would wear to hold up your pants is a good substitute.

Parvatasana in vajrasana (mountain arms in thunderbolt seat)



* Kneel on some support such as a yoga mat or towel, sit on the heels.
* Interlace the hands, straighten the arms and press open palms towards the ceiling.

A strap or belt is used to help straighten the arms, which is a difficult action for people with shoulder stiffness. Use a yoga strap to create a loop. The size of the loop should be adjusted so that the elbows are drawn in to the point that the upper arm and lower arm are in line with each other. If the elbows are flexible, be wary not to bring the elbows beyond this point as this can cause hyperextension of the elbow joint.

To work intelligently in this pose, repeat the pose with fingers interlaced with both crossings. What does this mean? Usually, one hand dominates when we interlace our fingers. If you interlace your fingers you will find that the index finger of one hand is higher than the index finger of the other hand. This is your habit and if you didn’t think about it, you would repeatedly interlace your fingers with buttocks and move them up away from the floor and that same index finger on top. Now, interlace your fingers towards the direction of the head.

With the opposite hand’s index finger on top. This will feel different because it is not your habit.

    


Habitually we use one arm more than the other. In yoga, we seek to redress this imbalance by working both the right side and left side of our body equally.

With fingers interlaced and palms pressing to the ceiling, the wrists and forearms will also receive a valuable stretch. Repeat the pose two times with each interlacing.

The strap or belt can markedly improve the effects of this seemingly simple stretch. this arm stretch can be performed with and without the strap to observe the difference that the strap makes.

Note: if it is not possible to kneel and sit on the heels, the arm action can be performed seated cross legged, seated in a chair or standing.


Adho mukha virasana (Downward Facing hero Pose with arm stretch)



* Keeping the big toes touching, separate the knees wide enough to allow the torso to come between them.
* Interlace the fingers behind the back, starting with the hands resting on the buttocks.
* Initiate the movement by lifting the shoulders away from the floor, and then straighten the arms.
* Then, work to raise the interlaced hands away from the note: if it is not possible to kneel and sit on the heels, the arm action can be performed standing.


Paschima namaskarasana (reverse Prayer Position)



* Kneel on some support such as a yoga mat or towel, sit on the heels.
* bring the palms together into a prayer position. Press the palms towards each other. move the elbows back and towards each other.
* this pose will help open the anterior shoulder.

Note: if it is difficult to get the palms together, hold the elbows with the hands behind the back.


Gomukhasana arms (Cow’s Face arm Posture)



* Kneel on some support such as a yoga mat or towel, sit on the heels.
* Take one hand onto the back from below, resting the back of the hand between the shoulder blades, the palm of this hand facing away from the body.
* Take the other hand onto the back from above, joining hands. the palm of this hand faces towards the body.
* On the arm that went from below, gently move the shoulder backwards to open up the anterior shoulder. on the arm that went from above, gently move the elbow vertically up.
* Repeat the pose alternating the arms.

Note: if it is not possible to join hands, use a strap or belt, holding the strap between the two hands and walking the hands along the strap towards each other.


Adho mukha svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)




* Use a strap or belt around the elbows to help straighten the arms, before assuming the usual downward facing dog pose.
* Create and maintain space around the inner shoulders by engaging the trapezius muscles and moving the shoulders away from the ears and towards the buttocks. this action will strengthen the upper back muscles.

Just as in the first pose, the size of the loop should be adjusted so that the elbows are drawn in to the point that the upper arm and lower arm are in line with each other. If the elbows are flexible, be wary not to bring the elbows beyond this point, as this can cause hyperextension of the elbow joint.

Note: straightening the arms with the strap will allow for a deeper shoulder stretch and allow the pose to be held for longer than if the strap was not used.


Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)



* Pressing the palms into the floor, straighten the arms and lift the buttocks up.
* Press the feet towards the floor to raise the buttocks higher and roll the shoulders back to open up the front chest.

Purvottanasana stretches pectoralis muscles and the anterior shoulders and strengthens the muscles of the upper back and posterior shoulders.


Adho mukha svanasana
Finish the sequence by repeating ‘adho mukha svanasana’, and if time permits spend some time lying on the back with the arms evenly placed on either side of the body with the palms facing up. this will enhance the effects of relaxation and release in the shoulders and chest.

 

George Dovas
A Nike-sponsored athlete with ten years teaching experience, George is currently based in Hong Kong working for Fitness First as a group exercise manager and freestyle group exercise trainer. He is a lecturer for the Asian Academy for Sports and Fitness Professionals and is also a certified Iyengar yoga teacher, having studied at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute in India.

GROUP EXERCISE, MIND BODY & AQUA NETWORK • AUTUMN/WINTER 2009 • P14-17