This article is by Heather Jordan
All the right moves: A closer look at shoulders
Our founder, Mary Bagot Stack, devised her exercise principles to promote correct posture and body alignment. Once you have been to an FLexercise class, you will become much more aware of your body and the way you hold yourself.
By educating muscles and mobilising joints, we learn to hold the body in a position where there is the least wear and tear on the joints. That positioning allows our organs to work effectively, creating optimum health.
The shoulder region is dramatically important to this, as gravity is constantly pulling the upper body forward and down. Counteracting this forward slump and maintaining the shoulders (and therefore the arms) in the correct position is one of our most fundamental challenges.
The first movement from the Bagot Stack shoulder routine will be very familiar to most class participants – i.e. shoulder forward, lift upwards, pull back and down, squeeze the shoulder blade back. Whether done with both shoulders, just a single side, or split into separate sections, the effect is the same – your shoulders and shoulder girdle are taken through a range of movements.
We will discuss in detail what this exercise does and how to achieve the maximum effect. Hopefully holding this position will become part of your normal stance.
If you are standing correctly, your shoulders should be relaxed away from your ears and placed centrally with your arms hanging loosely at your sides. Check yourself! If your arms are forward and your hands are touching the front of your thighs, there is a problem!
This incorrect position allows the upper back to round as the shoulders ‘droop’ forward. If you are constantly in this position you could develop a hump in the back, the chin may start to protrude, whilst the ribs collapse and close down on the chest region.
This will lessen the capacity of the lungs and also squash the stomach and the liver, compromising their efficiency. All need to function correctly for peak health.
Putting it into practice
1. When practising this shoulder exercise in class, we usually start by bringing the shoulders forward (protraction). This brings both the shoulders and the arms into the incorrect position. By getting you to droop forward in the ribs your teacher can highlight what this collapsed position feels like. Getting you to lift up out of the drooped position will illustrate the lifted position for the chest region and the subsequent correction of the shoulder position. It therefore suggests that even when the shoulders and arms do need to move forward (and many everyday actions will bring them forward) there is no reason to allow the chest area to collapse.
2. The next movement in the sequence brings the shoulders up towards your ears (elevation). This highlights potential tightness in the neck and therefore the tension in the neck muscles; if this position was normal you would have a permanent stiff neck.
3. To open up the chest and start strengthening the muscles of the upper back, you then pull the shoulder blades back and in towards the spine (retraction). Keeping the shoulders in the correct (semi-retracted) position all the time requires a fair degree of muscle tone. The next movement draws the shoulders down away from your ears (depression) to release tension in the neck.
4. Having completed these moves, it is then a good idea to stand with the shoulders and arms held correctly. You need to ‘feel’ this position in order to maintain the upward lift of the spine that correct placement of the shoulders and arms allows you to achieve.
When Mary Bagot Stack devised her shoulder exercise routine in 1930, it was to counteract the problems mentioned. Ninety years on, her exercises are just as relevant (and effective) today as they were then, even if some of the causes of bad posture and tension in the neck and shoulders have changed somewhat!