Are you hunched over at a desk right now reading this? Yes? Don't worry. I'm hunched over at a desk writing it.
Tell me, are your shoulders sore? Mine sure are.
Sore shoulders is pretty high up on the list of things my students (understandably) complain about most. For the most of us (and I'm definitely included in this), that soreness comes from what I call Hunchy Desk Posture, because so many of us sit at desks and peer at screens of some description for many hours a day, most days of the week.
If you're used to holding your upper body in this kind of shape, chances are that you also bring this shape into many of the yoga poses you practice. Unfortunately, this puts all sorts if weird pressure on joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles to do things they're really not supposed to. Doing so can, and often does, lead to those sore shoulders and—worse—injury.
So we want to counter Hunchy Desk Posture. The good news is that if you know a little bit about how your shoulders work and which parts of them should be doing what kind of work, then you can begin to correct this stuff yourself (and alleviate tension, tension headaches and that anxious feeling) just sitting at your desk.
What's going wrong in Hunchy Desk Posture
Usually, if you sit or stand like this, it means your upper back and neck are far more rounded than they really should be. Basically, this means three things:
The muscles between your shoulder blades and around your armpits lengthen and become weak
The muscles on your chest and the front of your neck shorten and also become weak
The muscles that run from the top of your shoulder blades, across the top of your shoulders and up your neck to the base of the skull have to do all the work. They don't like this very much. And it usually means they're tense and feel a bit like a rope.
(This is a really great article about how Vulture Posture—another great name for Hunchy Desk Posture— means your heavy-full-of-brains head is wreaking havoc on your spine.)
How to start to fix it yourself
To begin to counter that, you need lengthen the spine at upper back and and neck, well, upwards, rather than forwards.
Try this: sit tall, and without letting your head drop forward, pull your chin back towards your throat and make a double chin.
Notice how you're suddenly sitting up taller? Hopefully the top of your shoulders have relaxed a little too. Sit here a while, then relax.
You also want to try to strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades and underneath your armpits.
Try this: sitting, draw the bottom section of your shoulder blades towards one another at your spine. At the same time, let the bones of your upper arms rotate in your shoulder socket so if you bend your elbows your hands stick out to the side (I like to call this Pre-Shrug Pose).
Now add in the double chin exercise. And, most importantly, breathe slowly. The slow breathe should help to let the body know that it's okay to let go of that tension.
And here's the trick: do this for a minute or so whenever you notice that you're sitting all Hunchy-like.
(And if you're anything like me, that will be embarrassingly often).
Regularly reminding your body in this way starts to change posture habits, which most of us have been practicing again and again for many years.
There are also some yoga poses you might like to practice to lengthen the muscles across the chest, strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades and under your arm pits, and take the pressure off those poor muscles across the top of your shoulders and up the back of your neck that have been desperately trying to stop your head from falling off.
Play around with the double chin exercise, and the rotation of the arms and drawing together at the base of the shoulder blades in each of these postures. Breathe.
(If you want to print this image, just open it in a new tab and print away, for you to use at home or work.)