During many yoga classes I have attended, the teacher would continually tell us to “open your heart” and “bring your shoulders back and down.” In Pilates reformer classes, the cue was to “place your shoulders in your back pockets,” or just the stern command: “SHOULDERS DOWN!” Wanting to be a good student, I did this… over and over again until my shoulder blades were so retracted (drawn together) and depressed (drawn down) that I thought I was destined for an “A” in the class. Full disclosure: Yes, I am a habitual overachiever.
This cue was continually offered up because most of the students in the class had overdeveloped upper traps that kept their shoulder blades perpetually elevated (up near their ears) and protracted (separated). The problem was that the teacher could have repeated this cue until the cows came home, and her students still would have been unable to execute scapular retraction and depression. This is because without some blend of myofascial release and an embodied understanding of basic skeletal anatomy and directions of movement, it just wasn’t gonna happen.
To complicate matters, not all of the students were in this postural situation. In walks hyper mobile me, loosey goosey with instability in every joint (which, by the way, made me look really pretty in those yoga poses) with the ability to place my bones in virtually any position she requested. I kept listening to the instructor’s cues like a good girl until the medial border of my shoulder blades were French kissing like Marlon and Maria in the Last Tango in Paris.
Finally, I started taking private Pilates sessions. My shoulders were hurting and I couldn’t do the Vasistasana“Wild Thing” anymore (the horror!). I needed some one-on-one guidance from a teacher who taught teachers. She showed me the skeleton and the curved shape of the scapula, spine of the scapula, and ribcage. She explained how to test to see if your scapula were in a neutral position, and taught me exercises that strengthened the local stabilizers of my shoulder joint. I quickly learned how all this “opening of my heart” (while important to do when caring for a young child) was not serving my anatomical body, or my yoga and Pilates practice. I also discovered that all of this scapular retraction was interrelated to the anterior displacement of my ribcage (rib popping) and to my anterior pelvic tilt (happy tail). They all seemed to go together like a high school clique and I was beginning to look a lot like my childhood hero Nadia Comaneci (which is not a good thing unless you want to be an Olympic gymnast).
Fast forward several years later, I discovered Yoga Tune Up®, and that directions of movement and myofascial release techniques can be taught DURING the group class, not just kept as a secret to be revealed in private sessions. This allows students to embody their tissues first and understand basic human movement before moving on to more complicated exercises or postures. Wow! Imagine it: you are taught how to release your upper traps with the Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls. Then you physically move your shoulders through protraction, retraction, elevation, and depression while learning what the terms mean and how they feel in your body. Later on in class, when you get a cue to protract or retract, you actually know how to do it and what it means. VOILA! You now have mad skills that will help you to live better in your body every day. Luckily, you don’t have to imagine it. It happens all the time in Yoga Tune Up® classes, workshops, and teacher trainings.
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