Tight painful Shoulders
We all at some stage in our lives have experienced pain in the shoulders, tendonitis, bursitis or some kind of instability in the shoulders. Some of us have gone on to develop even more serious shoulder injuries such as the frozen shoulder or dislocated shoulder. If your shoulders are feeling tense and tight all during the day then its time to examine what in your life could be contributing or exasperating the problem. To 'carry the weight of the world on your shoulders' expression didn’t come from nowhere. Here we carry responsibility, from work, from others in our lives or ourselves, in general a weight from yourself or carrying responsibility for another or situation is sometimes a factor.
When something is happening in our lives for example; more pressure in work, fractured relationships, financial pressures, feeling trapped in your life, not expressing your full desires in life or doing something which is not your passion or some negative event - usually our emotional energy will always manifest pain or injury in a specific site in the physical body. In this case, the shoulders manifest pain, tense muscles and if ignored can lead to injury later. Fear and anxiety also plays a huge role in shoulders and these feelings can move up towards the ears. In eastern therapies and in yoga teachings you will have heard of the chakras – these are energy centers that run along the body, and at certain points, each connecting with each other to give the body and mind balance. When one of these energy points or chakras are blocked or imbalanced this can lead to problems in life/pain/injuries/emotional issues or sometimes disease. A heart chakra blocked can manifest physically in the upper back or shoulders, arms, heart, immune system and lungs. Heavy heartedness, grief, pain, and anger can also reside here. It’s important to clear these blockages for us to feel balanced and centered. On a practical side, our everyday lifestyles can contribute to shoulder pain also, computer work, driving, poor posture, an old shoulder injury or surgery around the chest area or abdominal area can also contribute to pain in the shoulders. Also, looking at how much water you hydrate yourself with, may also be an issue. Sore joints or sore muscles may be a sign you are not hydrating yourself enough, especially if you applying yourself in a lot of sports or in yoga. As like all diseases, injuries and pain in the body, it usually takes a combination of factors in our lives for something to manifest in the body. Yoga can play an active positive role in freeing up your shoulders, around the chest area and relieving yourself of pain.
Creating muscle awareness
From an anatomical point of view the shoulder girdle is formed from front to back by the sternum, the clavicles and the scapulae. It acts as a strong foundation for your arms, forearms, and hands. The shoulders contain several joints that allow your arms to rotate, bend and generally there is a wide range of motion. The primary shoulder joint is called the glenohumeral joint. It is extremely mobile but much less stable than say, our hips. The only connection the shoulder joint has to the body is the clavicle, which makes the area a very unstable area.
The rotator cuff is a set of tendons associated with the muscles that attach your shoulder blade (scapula) to your upper arm bone (humerus). Tendons attach muscle to bone. When those tendons are worn, torn, inflamed, or entirely ruptured, it hurts. The rotator cuff muscles act as tendons to hold the shoulder mechanism together with the arm. There are four of them, also known as the “SITS” muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, serratus anterior. Visualizing this area in the shoulders can be hard as most of us cannot make the mind body connection with the shoulders – also its covered by the shoulder blade (scapula). Its only when one becomes injured that usually one becomes so much aware of their shoulders and their role in the body.
Yoga can ease and alleviate pain in the shoulders but also give you more awareness into your shoulders. By practising good alignment and becoming aware of the range of motion in your shoulders one is on the way to healing and happy open shoulders. By opening the shoulder and chest in the body one can feel more freedom, opening and spaciousness in yoga poses and in life.
Learning to engage and strengthen your rotator cuff muscles is crucial to preventing injuries and healing new injuries. Downward dog if done properly will feel strengthening to your shoulders and keep you healthy. Other muscles individually play a huge role in independently supporting the shoulder joint. Teres minor and infraspinatus are the primary muscles that control the external rotation of the shoulders. Often you might hear the teacher say ‘roll the corners of your shoulders away fro your ears’ in downward dog i.e. externally rotating the shoulders.
Standing in Tadasana is a good way to practice the basic principles of shoulder alignment. You might begin rolling the head of the arm bones back, while drawing the shoulder blades down. By naturally engaging these muscles one can free up the space along the shoulders and also open the chest area.
By engaging your shoulders in Downward dog or ‘Adho Mukha Svanasana’, you will notice that the elbow creases of your arms will face forward and you will need to put more weight down in the thumbs and the index finger to evenly balance the weight in the hands. This automatically engages the external rotators and will keep the shoulders in good alignment and also bring stability into the whole shoulder girdle. In more challenging poses such as plank pose or chataurunga one needs to be extremely aware of shoulder position. In plank pose for example, one needs to draw the top of the shoulder heads back, away from the ears and draw the shoulder blades down the back. The wrist must be directly below the shoulder head for stability in the shoulder. Spreading the fingers and pressing down through the palms and pressing into the base of the fingers is also crucial for stability and alignment in the shoulders.
Below are another few yoga poses for tight shoulders
Start in a cross-legged sitting posture. Bring the right foot on the outside of the left and slide the foot close to the left hip. Bring the left ankle by the side of the right hip. Try to make sure that both the knees are one over the other. Make the effort to slide both the feet as far back as comfortable. Try to keep the spine straight and vertical and the head facing forward, chin parallel to the floor. Raise the right arm and bring the hand over the shoulder by bending the elbow. Wrap the left arm behind the back. Try to grasp the left hand with the right hand behind the back, walking the fingers down the back and eventually joining the fingers of the two hands together. In the beginning you may find it difficult to hold the two hands together; however, with practice, you should gradually be able to do so. In case you are unable to hold the hands, you may like to use a strap or a tie holding it with the two hands and trying to close the gap between the two hands. Extend your right elbow up to the ceiling and extend the left elbow down to the floor. Try not to ‘puff’ the chest out instead keeping the chest and ribs soft. Stay in the final pose for about 10-12 breaths.
Stand straight with the feet together (Tadasana). Inhale, stretch the arms apart in line with the shoulders. With an exhalation, swing the left elbow arm over the right elbow and cross the upper arms. Entwine the forearms and bring the palms together. The thumbs should now point toward the face. Lift the elbows to the height of the armpits and press the upper arms down to lift the chest. Release the top of the shoulders down the back, towards the floor. Breathe into the upper back and allow that area to open and spread. Hold for up to a minute, then repeat, reversing the position of the arms.
(Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) WITH CLASPED HANDS standing with your legs 3 1/2 to 4 feet apart and your feet facing forward and parallel, clasp your hands behind your back. If you have really stiff shoulders, hold a strap between your hands to allow your shoulders to move more easily. Engage your leg muscles and bend forward, bringing your arms over your head and toward the floor. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees slightly; this helps release your shoulders more. Continue breathing and allow your shoulders to relax. To release any neck stiffness, let your head hang.
(Revolved Side Angle Pose) PREPARATION If the muscles along your spine (the erector spine) are tight, you’ll find arm-binding poses challenging, so try these twisting poses to loosen your spinal muscles. Move into a lunge with your left leg back, bending your front knee to a right angle and dropping your back knee to the floor. Twist over your right leg, placing your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh. Continue to breathe and deepen the twist and the stretch. Scoop your tailbone and draw your abdomen away from the front leg, making your back very round and high. This stretches the muscles along your spine and gives you greater freedom through your shoulders as you continue to twist.
When someone does experience shoulder pain, it is important to go see a medical professional for a diagnosis. Since many symptoms maybe similar, this does not mean the same healing process applies to all - due to different injuries, structural differences in bodies and other factors, you may need a different approach in yoga, other alternative healing therapies or consult with a doctor.
Sometimes pain and injuries are about breaking old unconscious habits in our body and in our mind. By clearing the blocks of energy in the body one can free up our physical body but also free up space for a more conscious way of living in our body and mind. Yoga after all is about opening our awareness to our consciousness and who we really are as opposed to the conditions and patterns that we place upon ourselves everyday life.
* Reference poses from www.Yogajournal.com