When you hear “Relax your shoulders” in a yoga class, are you actually relaxing them? Or are you pushing them down your back? I’ve found in my years of teaching that most people come to yoga thinking it’s never ok to lift their shoulders and shoulder blades. I’m here to tell you that your shoulder blades were meant to MOVE. That means up, down, side to side – all directions! It’s healthier to move them, and here is how you should be and why.
Why You Want Your Shoulder Blades to Move:
There’s an order of operations to how the shoulder joint moves and stabilizes, and it starts with our shoulder blades. I want to make the sciency biomechanic stuff easy for you to understand, so here it goes:
We want stability in our joints. It helps our body feel safe, and when our body feels safe, there’s less of a chance it will tighten up or tell you that something hurts.
The thing in charge of stabilizing the shoulder joint is called your rotator cuff.
Your rotator cuff can’t do it’s job super well unless other parts of the shoulder are moving properly. It’s one of the last things to fire in the order of operations, but one of the most important things TO fire.
Here’s the order of operations:
Shoulder blade moves into position.
Your rotator cuff engages to help pull your upper arm bone back.
Upper arm bone pulls back and creates a safe, strong, stable shoulder joint.
So How Should the Shoulder Blade Be Moving?
This is where things get a little funky – when your arms are above your head, your shoulder blade goes both up and down. Another way of putting it is that the rotate forwards and up. Weird and confusing, right? Let me show you:
In the image above, you can see the upward rotation of the outer part of the shoulder blade. But you’re not lifting it straight up – it’s going around and up, while the inner part of the shoulder blade – the part closest to your spine – goes down.
Watch the video below to see this in action. Scroll to time stamp 0:26 to see what it looks like overhead:
See how the outside of the shoulder blade wraps forwards and up, but the inside part of the shoulder blade has to actually rotate down? So when you’re lifting your arms above your head and then forcing your shoulders down your back, you’re jamming up that shoulder blade and preventing it from doing it’s job – lifting the arm, and signaling to the rotator cuff that it’s time to stabilize your joint.
I know this is a lot to take in, but it’s so important!! We don’t always want to be forcing our shoulders down! They’re supposed to move and stopping them from doing so can sometimes create pain in our shoulders.
Give it a try right now:
Reach your arms above your head and try to feel the rotation of the outer shoulder blade wrapping forwards and up, while the inner part of the shoulder blade goes down to allow for the elevation of the outer part of the shoulder blade.
How did that feel?
Now try it the other way –
Reach your arms up and push your shoulder blades down your back. Doesn’t feel too good does it?
So from now on in yoga, life – everything – make sure you allow your shoulder blades movement. They’re supposed to go up and down, side to side – they move in every direction!