Silent Sundays: Top to Bottom, Part One–Shoulders

This Silent Sunday introduces a new series designed to address the areas of the body and realms of emotion most prone to stress and strife. As the year winds down and the holiday expectations amp up, three zones are easily strained: shoulders, low back, and knees/feet. The corresponding mental and emotional concerns are, respectively, irritability and guilt; fear and the “blues;” and earthly stability and spiritual progress.

In today’s Part One, I offer a short practice to unravel tension in the shoulders and upper spine. Also in this region lies, of course, the Heart Center: Inherently, today’s routine will free the flow of Heart Energy, thereby facilitating a calm approach toward self and others. Additionally, the Throat, or Fifth Chakra will be stimulated, thus allowing one to communicate personal needs and boundaries.

Ironically, I was motivated to create this series after considering a brief hiatus from posting pieces here. Whether it be from “perfectionism” or deep commitment, Guilt began to announce itself as soon as the thought of a break arose. For me, that feeling manifests as tension throughout the shoulder girdle.

So often, our body forms the crux of age-old aphorisms. In the case of Guilt and its effect on the shoulders, the phrase “weight of the world” comes to mind. When one insists on carrying a burden, be it presented from the outside or from within, the result is a physical weighing-down: On those shoulders the burden rests.

This may be a familiar feeling to many, especially around holiday time, when expectations and obligations are high.

Thus, on this Silent Sunday, I offer a quick routine to free the oxen yoke upon which many of us place so much unnecessary load.

Standing, begin with shoulder bounces. A “shrug” emphasizes the upward pull of the shoulder; a “bounce” emphatically, rapidly pulses the shoulder down. First bounce the right shoulder 8 times, then the left; then bounce each 4 times; then 2, alternating twice.

Next, circle the left shoulder back 8 times (only the left); then the right by itself 8 times. Then, again, 4 backward rolls for each; then 2, twice. Then, single alternating rolls 8 times.

Now, alternating left and right forward rolls, incorporate a roll-down through the torso. As the shoulders circle forward, let them bring the body along for the ride: You will roll down through the spine until the spine looks like a candy cane. This is not a traditional Forward Bend; instead, allow the spine to curve—round—naturally as you roll down, allowing the forward shoulder rolls to take you there.

After the first roll-down via forward shoulder circles, roll back up through the spine, allowing the shoulders to rest. Then, repeat the roll-down with shoulder circles two more times.

Now, help yourself to the floor, and lie on your back. With knees bent and feet flat, hip-width apart, allow the knees to fall inward; this is a restful posture for the entire back. Extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling for Shoulder Drops. Imagine that someone is pulling your hand up, lifting the shoulder off the floor slightly, and then dropping the arm. Find a fairly quick rhythm, alternating left and right for 1 minute.

Then, rest the arms on the floor by the sides of the body. Now imagine that someone is tugging one arm down toward the feet: Let the body and head respond; they will shift and roll slightly to the tugged side. Tug one arm 8-12 times, then the other. Then rest briefly, enjoying a few deep, slow breaths.

Next, again extend both arms straight up toward the ceiling, directly above the shoulders. Let the bent knees open, so that they are in line with the feet and hips. Bring the palms together. Now, drop both knees to the left as the arms move to the right. Inhale to bring all parts back to center, then exhale: knees drop to the right as arms move left. Repeat this oppositional movement for 1 minute. Allow the head to move of its own accord; it may or may not choose to participate.

Now, roll onto the belly, forehead resting on the floor. Bring each hand to either side of its shoulder; the placement is not exact, and you may need to adjust as you begin to move. Now, lift the head a bit. Pressing through the left palm, lift and roll the left shoulder away from the floor; let the head turn slightly to the left, as will be its natural inclination. Immediately press through the right hand to roll the shoulder up and way from the floor, turning the head toward the right. Alternate back and forth, left and right, and find a fluid twist through the upper spine and shoulders; the neck will enjoy a subtle release into freedom. Continue for 1-3 minutes, or as long as feels right.

When you are ready, press back into Baby Pose. Interlace the fingers behind the back, and extend the arms straight. Inhale to raise them as far up and away from the back as you can, then exhale to lower. Inhale up, exhale down; continue for 1 minute.

Next, sit up to enter your favorite seated pose. With the hands on the shoulders (fingers in front, thumbs behind), and the elbows at shoulder level, begin to flex and extend through the upper spine and shoulders. Inhale to draw the elbows back, as if to touch one another; exhale to bring them to meet in front of you at chest level. Inhale to open the chest, exhale to widen and round the upper back. Continue for 1 minute.

Finally, release the hands into the lap. With eyes closed, gazing to the Third Eye, inhale slowly and deeply through the nose; exhale fully and steadily through open, rounded lips. With each exhale, feel that the shoulders release down as the neck extends freely upward. Continue for 3 minutes. If so moved, ease your way into Svasana for as long as you like.

Happy Sunday…