Anatomy of the Shoulder Girdle
Given the shallow seating of the humeral joint, it is important to keep the tissues surrounding the shoulder joint flexible and strong. When a person is decidedly one-sided in a daily activity that includes even a small amount of weight bearing through the arms--carrying a briefcase, carrying an infant, playing tennis, cleaning the kitchen countertops--the muscles develop unevenly along the spine, and the attachments at the shoulder girdle of the dominant side become overused and strained. Yoga exercises on the ball that even out the weight bearing through both shoulder girdles help to address this imbalance.
In addition to shortening her Achilles tendon, the high heels were pulling Ellie's spine out of alignment and creating muscular imbalance in the shoulders. The right shoulder, which carried her overstuffed briefcase, was much stronger than the left; the only way Ellie could convey the heavy case was by hanging on to the handle with her right hand and wearing the long carrying strap over her right shoulder. The backpack that Ellie switched to would serve a few purposes. First, it would pull her back into extension--a standing-yoga version of the Cobra asana--and keep her shoulders level. Second, the strap of a briefcase would no longer be tearing into her shoulder, causing local muscle irritation and neck and upper back pain. The backpack we chose for Ellie had wheels so that she could pull it along when navigating through a building or airport, as long as she alternated arms frequently. Otherwise, neck and shoulder problems would continue to prevail due to overuse on one side of the body.
If Ellie had been able to maintain an uninterrupted schedule in her fitness routine she could have counteracted and prevented the effects of the new demands placed on her upper body by making simple adjustments to her workout regime. As it was, it took some time before we could reestablish the appropriate muscle balance in Ellie's body. We began the process by designing Ellie's fitness routine so that she avoided any exercises that would strengthen the chest and the front of the shoulders, as these muscles were already tight due to her daily activities. We concentrated instead on strengthening the hack and the posterior shoulders. With the use of the ball, Ellie began to establish balance in the spinal muscles by integrating hack-extension exercises, such as the Cobra asana and other yoga postures, into her routine. Strengthening the posterior shoulder muscles was accomplished by lifting and lowering the hips while in a reverse yoga Plank position. We strengthened her midback with repetitions of scapula retraction while in Half-Plank. The Fish pose, with arm variations, was perfect for stretching the body and developing flexibility and balance in the chest and front shoulder muscles.
Once we had some exercises in place that addressed the Ellie's muscle imbalances, we were able to move on and fine-tune her fitness routine. Proceeding without doing so would have left Ellie prone to further injury.
The Importance of Good Posture
Good posture can make us look taller and more svelte and can help prevent unnecessary wear and tear on the body. Our posture can even affect our mood. And as we learned in the last chapter, in order to feel good, both mentally and physically, we must be able to breathe well. We typically associate collapsed posture with depressed, discouraged states of mind. When we sit or stand present and erect we are able to breathe better because the lungs have more room to expand within the rib cage. Breathing oxygenates the brain, lowering anxiety and creating a positive mind state. Often simply changing posture in order to stand or sit taller, in a confident posture, can make us feel more empowered and optimistic.
Yogis believe that prana, the body's life force, moves through the body more freely when the body is in proper alignment. With prana pulsing through the body's chakras and nadis, every cell in the body is healthier and more vibrant. The mind is sharper and more focused, and the nervous system functions more effectively. We are more in touch with our intuition and spirituality. Yogic theory would tell us that in this state we become connected with a divine intelligence--something beyond our own persona! power where synchronicity and serendipity prevail. Yogis believe that in this state we are more able to actualize and move toward our highest potential and personal destiny. It is not only the five-thousand-year-old disciplines of yoga and martial arts that dictate the value of optimal posture. More recent bodywork practices, such as rolfing and the neuromuscular practices developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, F.M. Alexander, and Joseph Pilates also sing the praises of good body posture. Postural deviations caused by abnormalities in the bones cannot be improved by exercise and are permanent. However, when poor posture is a result of muscle imbalance and lack of postural awareness, we are able to correct the deviation with education and appropriate exercise.