When I first trained in Pilates I remember being told to draw my shoulders back and down, to melt them down in a soft V and many other cues which were meant to encourage shoulder stability and correct alignment for those who carry their shoulders up by their ears. But does creating downward tension actually help elevate the upward tension in the upper back and neck? These cues also tend to encourage scapula depression which in turn tends to block thoracic mobility. Try this- begin to do The Spine Stretch, firstly draw your shoulders down in a V shape and then try to flex the spine. Can you feel how restricted you are? Does the movement feels very forced? You can also try this in Roll Down, Roll Up from seated and so on..
Then I attended a class with a wonderful instructor who cued "easy shoulders". Suddenly I could move so much more fluidly, with improved articulation and the movement felt completely different.
We can find so many other cues similar to this where the shoulders are encouraged to relax, to soften, to open outwards from the mid back. Even bringing the focus away from the shoulder and cue lengthening the neck, elongating the spine and having heavy elbows.
So now we are encouraging dynamic stability not rigidity of the scapula (this is the same for the pelvis-no fixing- but that is for another blog!) To explain further, as we lift our arms overhead the scapula should rotate upwards, the humerus should slightly depress and externally rotate (this is called scapulohumeral rhythm. If we try to fix or depress the scapula as we do this, we cause a huge amount of unnecessary tension and potential harm. Again try it- raise one arm up focusing on keeping the shoulders relaxed and feel the fluidity of movement then try it again with scapula depression-ouch!
Mark Leyland explains the biomechanics of motion in more detail in his fantastic article The Pilates Shoulder
So over the next few classes try some cues to relax your shoulders- stop drawing them down and let them go! Free your shoulders!
I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback as always!