When attempting good posture, we often “pull the shoulder blades back.” This usually feels good, because it counteracts our forward bending and slouching tendencies.
But if we add one more piece of awareness–the position of the spine–we can add length and space to the mid-back, making it stronger and less prone to injury.
In yoga, as we pull the shoulder blades back and together, we often move our spines at the same time. Think about it: when the shoulder blades come together, the back usually arches. When we push the shoulder blades apart, the back rounds.
The movements seem intimately coupled. But are they? And why should we care?
Well, mid-back pain or muscle tightness often results from excess spinal mobility. If the vertebrae arch (extend) too much, they can compress together, causing a pinching sensation. Learning how to move your shoulder blades without moving the spine will improve stability by keeping the vertebrae evenly spaced.
How to Do It
Sit in a comfortable position. Try to bring your shoulder blades closer together (adducting or retracting the scapulae) without arching your mid-back. You will find you need to activate your core in order to do so.
Now, try it in your yoga practice–maybe in warrior 1 or high lunge. It is easier if you keep your hands at heart center instead of reaching them up. Pull your shoulder blades together without arching the spine. See how you feel after your practice. You should notice more space in the mid-back, and more strength in your core.
The same thing applies to downward-facing dog pose. Keeping space in the mid-back region promotes spinal stability and decreases tightness and pinching. Learn more about downward dog here.