I have been having a little bit of a problem lately. Everywhere I go, I seem to see shoulders that are scrunched right up to people's ears. And every time I see it, I just want to go over to that person, lovingly place my hands on their shoulders and remind them to relax. While I might view that as public service, I highly doubt many strangers would appreciate me adjusting their shoulders uninvited. So I stop myself and am now channeling that desire into a short and sweet lil' blog post just for you.
Check in right now: where are your shoulders? Are they relaxed down away from your ears or are they held in tight? Often, we may not be holding our shoulders extremely tense but holding them up slightly. Is that you right now? Have you been unconsciously holding your shoulders up just a bit? If so, it is very likely that is the way you are almost always holding your shoulders. And guess what, when you are doing something with your upper body, that shoulder tension comes along for the ride. Even something as simple as opening a tight lid on a jar... do you use your arms or do you sort of crouch over the jar, lift your shoulders, tense your neck as you try to pry it open? If so, it is time to invite a long-distance relationship between your ears and your shoulders, they have been too close for too long.
The most important thing is realizing that you even hold tension in your shoulders in the first place. And I mean, holding that tension all the time, even when you don't feel tired or stressed. I know for me, while my mind (read: ego) thinks I am relaxed (I teach yoga and movement for a living, aren't I always magically relaxed?) yet if I check in, it is not uncommon to notice that there has been slight tension and holding of the shoulders.
What to Do
Here is the most simple and yet the hardest solution:
- Realizing that you even have the habit in the first place.
- Stop holding your shoulders in a state of tension. (Relaaaaaax those shoulders)
Sounds easy right? Yet for many of us that pattern is running pretty deep in our unconscious. It has become a habit, the default position for your body to be in. And this pattern isn't just isolated in our shoulders. How about furrowing your brow when you are reading or driving? What about clenching your jaw? Do you keep your quadriceps engaged while standing? Are you squeezing your butt all the time? Shining the light on these and other habits is the ultimate less is more: the less you engage muscles you don't need to be using at any given time, the more your body and nervous system can relax. Yet it is easier said than done. Read this for more perspective and ideas about changing your habits and enjoy the following exercise.
As often as you can, check into your shoulders. When you are walking, practicing yoga, sitting in your car, desk, couch or holding something heavy, see what your shoulders tend to do. And if you find that there is any degree of tension, then stop, stop holding the shoulders. Take a big deep breath and on the exhale, feel them relax away from your ears. Keep repeating and repeating and repeating until one day you check your shoulders and they are right where they are supposed to be, away from your ears and relaxed.
If you don't already have a meditation practice, try incorporating at least a few minutes each day in a quiet space, simply observing your thoughts. I also highly recommend Savasana or a restorative yoga pose. My personal favourite is the psoas release with your head and shoulders bolstered. Click here for a tutorial. Carve out time for yourself each day for quiet and calm along can go a long way to help move your shoulder's default position into a relaxed one.
And watch this video for a demonstration how to align your head and a short exercise that will keep those shoulders relaxed.