I’ve had bad posture as long as I can remember. My first memory of it being an issue was during a doctor’s appointment when I was 11 or 12. As I sat on the exam table, my family doc told me to be proud and sit up straight. I realized he thought I was slouching to conceal my (mostly nonexistent) budding chest. Beyond the ewww factor, it only made me want to slouch more. Fast forward more years than I care to acknowledge and I’m still fighting the slouch. Decades of quality time over the computer haven’t helped my slightly rounded shoulders. Fortunately, I’ve been doing yoga for more than a decade, which has helped me be more conscious of posture. And while good posture is still a work in progress for me, this rounded-shoulder remedy has been a huge help. If you also feel like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, read on:
Roots of the rounding
I’m not sure what caused my slouch. The ridiculously heavy backpack I wore to and from school for years? The trauma to my spine from falling off monkey bars flat on my back? The countless hours huddled over a desk at work? Yes, yes, yes and probably a combo of many other spinal sins.
Whatever the main culprit, I want to stop the slouch before it gets worse. Beyond being unflattering, rounded shoulders can also lead to neck and shoulder pain. Plus, I worry about developing the bent-over posture that can afflict people with osteoporosis. (The thinning-bone disorder that’s estimated to cause osteoporotic fractures in one in three women over age 50 worldwide runs in my family: My mom and her mother both had it, as do an aunt and one of my older sisters.) Also called dowager’s hump, stooped posture is caused by compression fractures in weakened vertebrae.
Rounded-shoulder remedy: supported heart opener
While getting sufficient calcium and vitamin D along with weight-bearing exercise are key to preventing osteoporosis, yoga can be very helpful for rounded shoulders. Over the years, I’ve tried several poses focused on opening the shoulders. One yoga teacher even advised me to roll my back on a couple of tennis balls daily. She told me that it would feel like a massage. Sure, if the massage was being done by a torture specialist…
Which brings me to the rounded-shoulder remedy that’s worked best for me. Called supported heart opener, it requires two yoga blocks and an optional bolster. (If you have neck or back issues, consult with your doctor before trying.) Place one block at its medium height near the top of your mat, and parallel to the mat width. Place the second block about a foot below the first one in the centre of mat, at its lowest height and parallel to the mat length. The two blocks should form a “T.” Lie down and adjust so the second block is under your shoulder blades. Your legs can be straight out in front of you, bent at the knee with feet flat on the mat or spread so they form a diamond shape with soles touching. It may take a few attempts to get the perfect spot. Stay in the position for two to three minutes. If you feel any pain, adjust immediately.
For an even more restorative position, place a bolster lengthwise over the two blocks. As you progress, you may want to switch the block under your head to its top height and the one under your shoulder blades to its medium height.
I love the way the pose opens my shoulders while I’m on the mat. But, perhaps even more beneficial, is that it makes me more conscious of where my shoulders are when I’m out of yoga class.
My hope is that this rounded-shoulder remedy works for you, too.
Do you have any favourite exercises that have improved your posture? I’d love to hear about them below.