5 Alignment Cues You Need to Know About – Both On & Off Your Mat Part 2
In part 1 of this blog series, we looked at postural cues for adopting neutral alignment in the pelvis and rib cage and for activating the deep core muscle system (Mula Banda). We introduced the concept of adequate load transfer and how maintaining correct alignment both on & off the mat is essential in reducing excessive wear and tear of our joints and soft-tissues. Let’s now take a look further up the kinetic chain to the scapular, head & neck.
4. Set your Scapular
This can be one of the trickiest postural cues to get right, mostly due to muscle imbalances that have set-in due to faulty habits such as sitting at computers with our arms in front of us and palms facing down, or leaning on our elbows on a table for hours on end. Scapular and shoulder mechanics are quite complex and the causes for imbalance and presentations are varied between individuals. However at the risk of oversimplifying an incredibly complex mechanical structure, in a nutshell the muscles that retract and downwardly rotate the scapular (pecs, lats, rhomboids, levator scapulae) are in a shortened position throughout the day and become tight and overactive and the muscles that protract and upwardly rotate the scapular (middle/lower trapezius, serratus anterior) are lengthened and weakened . Over time this make sit difficult to set your scapular flat against your ribcage at rest and during upper limb movements and is also called winging. Some of the better cues you may hear in class to help you achieve a correct scapular alignment include:
“ widen across your collar bones” or move your shoulder blades away from your spine’
When employing these visual cues your shoulder blades should move away from the spine, rotate upwards slightly and fix against the ribcage, a stable and strong position.
Commonly, people fall into the trap of retracting their shoulder blades
5. Lengthen the back of your neck.
Throwing your head back and shortening the back of the neck is something we do in yoga postures when trying to reach a greater depth in back bends. This along with hyperextending the lumbar spine. Back bends are called heart openers because the very part of the back (spine) that they are trying to open is behind the heart, the thoracic spine. Because most of us are stiff in our thoracic spine due to prolonged sitting at computers, we will tend to compensate by hyperextending our cervical or lumbar spine. Engaging the deep neck flexors or ‘activating throat banda’
Common cues you’ll hear in the yoga classroom to correct head & neck alignment include:
Lift through the crown of your head (Sahasrara chakra),
lengthen the back of your neck or bring softness to the back of your neck.
Gently nod your chin (throat chakra) is another common one you’ll hear.
In sitting, core muscle weakness causes many office workers to slump after prolonged periods of sitting as the core muscle system just doesn’t have the endurance to maintain a neutral alignment. The result is a slump posture and a shortening of the back of the neck.
Now if only your yoga teacher could just stand in the corner of your office and call out these 5 alignment cues all day….. Then maybe we could look like this…
If you have been practicing yoga for a while now and have started noticing niggling pain in the lower back, pelvis, shoulders or neck you may be experiencing failed load transfer in any or all of these joints. A thorough assessment by a skilled yoga therapist can identify these weak points in your kinetic chain and provide therapeutic posture sequences specifically targeted at correcting muscle imbalances.