You hear it all the time. “Pull the shoulder blades down the spine”. For years I did this, but I felt like I was missing out on some range of motion. Then I watched this video by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (love her!), who developed physiologically-informed movement dubbed Body-Mind Centering. She explains the anatomy of shoulder blade movement and with one sentence changed how I approach lifting and reaching my arms.
Here it is: think of your shoulder blades as a wheel rotating around a pivot point.
Wow. *mind blown*
Here’s a comparison. Shoulder blades pulled down:
Notice the curve in my arms and the width of my upper back as I try to pull down the lateral (outer) part of my shoulder blades down along with the medial part (towards the spine).
Now if I rotate my shoulder blades:
The lateral edge of my shoulder blades are allowed to rotate upwards (to me it feels like a wrapping upward motion towards my front ribs) as the medial part of the shoulder blades come down. My arms are straighter and overall it feels like I’m working with my body, not against it.
Try it! Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with a neutral pelvis (your ASIS and pubic bone are approximately on a vertical plane) and feet hip width apart. Take an inhale and swing both arms in front of you, then up and overhead. Now try the common cue and pull your shoulders down your back as if you had imaginary strings attached to the inferior (bottom) edge of your shoulder blade. Notice how this feels in your shoulders and upper back. Soften the front ribs (i.e. resist the urge to arch your back and puff out your chest), then on an exhale release your arms down by your sides.
Then try it with rotation. Check in with your tadasana. Imagine that your shoulder blade as a rotating piece about a “center of gravity” or pivot point. Then inhale and swing your arms overhead, allowing the the lateral edges of your shoulder blades to swing upwards. Notice how the medial part of the blades naturally glide down. Soften the front ribs. Stay for a few breaths and notice how this feels different than the first way. If you’ve got a full length mirror handy, try both ways again and see the difference.
This perspective shift was a game changer for me; I can’t count how many times I reach my arms overhead or away from by body even in one practice. It’s even helped my handstand practice, taking the forcing out of the tops of my shoulders and gliding into alignment instead.