One of areas of difficulty I regularly observe in my clients is in the shoulders and neck.
Many people are habitually tense in the shoulders. The head is often held forward, out of alignment with the cervical spine. All those hours staring at a smartphone, doing computer work – or slouching starting with the lumbar spine – take their toll.
Muscles at the back of the neck and shoulders tend to become elongated while others at the front get tighter and shortened.
It takes good focus and practice to release and drop the shoulders into a good place, while releasing upwards through the very top of your skull.
Carrying a weight on the crown of the head as many African women do out of necessity for essentials such as water is luckily not asked of us in our privileged lives. But we can learn from how these women move. Imagine you are carrying a basket of roses.
The disciplined shoulder and neck movements of pilates really help to rebalance our elongated and shortened neck muscles. Over time, pilates restores equilibrium.
Where pilates really helps is with getting an ongoing sense of your posture. It is not a quick fix but something that grows and becomes part of your everyday being.
One of the best things about doing pilates regularly is that you develop awareness of your posture – and you improve it steadily and surely. As a pilates teacher, I am always proud when I see my clients stand tall and connected with their bodies.
Poor posture makes your back vulnerable to fatigue, strain, and injuries. Good posture makes you stronger, less prone to back ache; good posture also makes you look taller!
Changing your postural habits is a decision; you need to retrain your muscles, you need to tune in.
The first step is to become aware of the position of your body. Start to notice the position of your head. The head should sit over the torso, not in front it. The chin should be parallel with the floor. The chest should be lifted slightly but not jutting forward, the shoulders should be down and back but soft and relaxed. The ears, shoulders and pelvis should line up (when viewed from the side).
The pelvis should be in neutral. [What ‘neutral’ means deserves another post, but, briefly, tilting the top of the pelvis forward increases the curve in the lower back; tilting the pelvis backward flattens or decreases the curve in the lower back.]
Keep the shoulder blades back and down but don’t overdo it. The shoulders should be relaxed.
Check your own posture several times a day, take note of your posture. Is your head centred over your torso? Is your chest slightly elevated? Are your shoulders down and relaxed? Is the curve in the lower back supported while you are sitting?
Do this simple posture exercise several times a day! Release your shoulders away from your ears, lengthen your neck by feeling the crown of your head lift upwards, squeeze your shoulder blades together – hold for 10 seconds. This will strengthen the upper back muscles that keep your shoulder blades in a good position.
Remember that good shoulder position does not mean rigid posture. Soften those shoulders!