As a yoga teacher, I may or may not be guilty of having once, twice, hopefully less than 100 times in my pre-YTU days, uttered the phrase “open the back of your heart.” EEK! How unspecific and blatantly disrespectful not to give reference where namesake is due? I hope to goodness’ sakes none of my students tried this potentially messy miscue at home. To be precise, and frankly more anatomically employed, the action intended was to stretch the fibers of the trapezius muscle; to escape the trap of this workhorse atop a vast portion of your back, shoulders, and neck.
The sting-ray shaped muscle runs from the neck to the mid back vertically, and from acromion to acromion horizontally across the upper back; it takes residence on both sides of the spine. This diamond-formed structure is divided into three sections (though for trivia sake, it’s fascinating to know that the trapezius was once connected to the sternocleidomastoid, yet throughout development, they parted ways). The upper fibers of the “trap” originate on the occipital bone at the base of the skull and insert at the clavicle. The middle fibers begin at the seventh cervical vertebra and insert into the medial margin of the acromion and the posterior border of the spine of the scapula. The lower fibers start at thoracic vertebrae T4-T12, ascending North, East, and West up the back uniting at the scapulae. Collectively, the trapezius is responsible for elevation, retraction, depression, and upward rotation of the scapula, as well as extending and rotating the head and neck.
With all of this territory and a range of functions, I imagine you can see the possibilities of how our back and shoulders could fall into a net of tension. Poor posture (picture vulture shoulders while typing at a computer), overuse without stretch (i.e. dozens of up and down dogs, shoulder shrugs, or upright rows), or simply carrying a purse, groceries, or baby: all of these daily actions can create tightness, soreness, and otherwise unhappy trapped tissues.
So, word to the tuned in: beware opening the back of your heart. Instead, protract your shoulder blades by hugging someone, get rolling on some Roll Model massage balls, or get yourself into these great yoga poses for the trapezius: Garudasana (Eagle), Twisted Child’s Pose, or Reverse Crucifix…and free yourself from this oft self-imposed trap through trapezius muscle stretches.
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