Keep Those Shoulders Down!

It is only October, and already I miss summer. Days filled with humidity and warmth, sundresses and sandals, and my shoulders relaxed carelessly down my back. As the weather turns colder, my shoulders shoot right up to my ears. Walking down the street I constantly remind myself to relax my shoulders — back and down, just like in yoga — but before I take 10 steps, they are hunched and knotted back up at my ears. Is this my body’s way of warming me up, or is simply a rebellion against the discomfort of the cold? Ugh. Either way, my neck is already sore from the misalignment. How will I make it through winter without a full-on crick in my neck?

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My shoulders have always been a problem spot for me. They are very tight and my tendency before I began practicing yoga was to keep them up by my ears in a tense knot at all times. I didn’t ever notice that this was not where they should be until I started practicing yoga. The teacher would say, “Relax your shoulders back and down,” and I thought she was making a joke. Back and down where? That’s not where shoulders live.

During the first years of my practice, getting my arms behind my ears in all parts of Half Moon Pose was a huge challenge. It is still hard for me to release my shoulder fully as I kick up and back in Standing Bow Pose, but I fight for it every day. Even in Savasna, I need to consciously move my shoulders into position so that they rest on the floor. If I didn’t adjust them, they would naturally swoop up and forward.

The good news is that after six years of regular yoga practice, there has been slow and steady progress. I now understand how to relax my shoulders and pull with my biceps in Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose. In Tree Pose, I have begun to work on releasing my chest forward because my shoulders are finally aligned. And when I walk around in normal life, my shoulders are better behaved, hanging out where they should be, relaxed and down my back.

But when the weather starts to turn, this all goes out the window. My shoulders fly right back up to my ears. One day I mentioned this to my family and now my son keeps pushing my shoulders down as we walk down the street. “Mom, remember, relaxed back and down,” he scolds me. I adjust them, but it doesn’t last long. Old habits die hard I guess. And it is not even that cold yet.

Maybe I need to wear more layers or a warmer coat or a bigger scarf around my neck and shoulders when I am outside. I already have the world’s warmest hat. Well, at least I have the hot room to help repair the damage I am doing the rest of the day. This will have to do until I can convince my family to move to Florida…

Fellow yogis, do your shoulders shoot up to your ears when it is cold?

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