Setting the shoulders is essential to good hoop posture and good posture in general. I am going to share an exercise for setting the shoulders that is also a good warm up to do prior to hooping. It helps reduce injuries and helps a lot with shoulder hooping and isolations as well.
I didn't have a dance background and it wasn't until I started taking flamenco that I realized that my upper posture was pretty bad. My teacher would walk behind me and put her hands on my shoulders and say, "Drop your shoulders. Drop your shoulders." and I'd be like, "But my shoulders are dropped!." The truth, though, is that I had developed a position of having my shoulder rolled forward that I'd had for so long that it was comfortable for me. It was hard for me to roll them back and down and it wasn't until my teacher pointed out that my range of motion was restricted that I even realized I had a problem. My shoulders were slumped and I was on my way to being bent over. Had I gone on that way, I'd have probably had a hunch in my back by my 50's. I'm so glad I learned that I had a posture-related issues. It was a painful blessing that saved me from that inevitability. My posture is much better now and I'm grateful for the wake-up call. We live in a world that encourages slumping -- using computers, driving cars, opening doors, even crappy couches and sitting in terrible office chairs can create lifelong health problems. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can do something about it.
Setting the shoulders is essential for a powerful hoop posture. If they're rolled to the front, you're rolling forward which makes your behind stick out and the front of your hoop dip down. Setting the shoulders is also an important requirement for beautiful arm work. It allows us to utilize our full range of motion. It also allows us to breathe deeper and lets our energy system, our chi, flow freely and this extends our lives and increases our quality of life.
When I first started practicing setting my shoulders, it felt very unnatural to me, even uncomfortable. So if it feels unnatural to you, know that that is a passing phase. Now setting the shoulders feels natural. I do it when I want to relax and breathe deep. It takes much of the pressure off my lower back and lets me optimize the use of my lungs. Now, not only do my shoulders feel better, my whole body feels better. I breathe deeper and have more energy to hoop. Simply put: Lifting from the heart while relaxing the shoulders back and down lifts the entire upper half of the body so the lower half doesn't have to do all the heavy lifting.
I am going to share an exercise for setting the shoulders. When I first started practicing this exercise, I had to remember to practice it. I posted reminders in the places I was most likely to hunch over -- in front of my computer, by my tv and in my car. This helped enormously! These reminders helped me recognize where I was most likely to slump and to overcome it in the places where I had formed the bad habit. Practicing rolling my shoulders back and down in these places helped me develop much better posture. I also do this brief warmup before I hoop and I teach it to my students. I have had the pleasure of watching them stand taller and prouder and stronger. This one simple ritual was the answer for me. Perhaps it will be for you too.
Setting the Shoulders::
- push your shoulders forward as far as you can
- leaving them forward, push them up as high as you can
- leaving them high, push them back as far as you can
- leaving them back, push them down as low as you can
- now pretend you have a walnut between your shoulder blades. Try to crack it between your shoulder blades.
Do this again and again, at least 4 times, ideally 10, and on the last repetition, leave out the walnut exercise and try to relax your shoulders so that the blades rest low and relaxed with the shoulderblades close to each other.
As you do this, you may experience a big lump of muscle stress between your shoulderblades. This is very common. You can work this muscle a bit and release this stress, which will make you feel better in addition to improving your posture. All things are connected. To that end, I often follow this exercise with another one. I roll my shoulders back and down and then pretend that I am a snake, practicing peristalsis at each vertebrae, alternately tightening, then relaxing the muscles alongside my neck, then between my shoulders, lower and lower, working my way down my back. It's like an internal chiropractic adjustment. We tend to store our stress between our shoulder blades and this causes us to stiffen up and not be able to move freely and can even push the spine out of alignment.Pay attention to anyplace that feels hard to move through. This is the place you need to work. (And if you can't move through it on your own, consider getting a massage. Bodywork can help a lot with this.)
Keep at it and, in time, you will be able to feel yourself contract and relax the muscles along your spine all the way down your back. Take a moment a few times a day to realign from the inside out. It will improve your posture, decrease your lower back pain, free up your range of motion in your arms, allow you to breathe better, release the tension we all hold between our shoulders and allow you to lead with your heart.
For more information on posture and its relationship to hooping, I invite you to read my blog post, "Power-Full Posture". Posture makes a big difference in our hooping and in our lives. http://www.hoopcity.ca/profiles/blogs/powerfull-posture
Stand tall. You deserve to take up space. You are unique and miraculous and you deserve to shine.