Lesson of the Month #9 (4/97)

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Freeing the Shoulders

Underlying themes are about reaching out, contact, and interacting with the world. There's probably something here about shouldering responsibility, too.

Works with:
Differentiates shoulder movement from ribs, neck, and spine. Clarifies possible movements of the shoulders.

1. Lie down on the floor on your back. Notice how this is for you today. Give yourself a few minutes like this to let your body adjust to the floor. Notice particularly how your upper back and shoulders make contact with the floor, and attend to the sensations in your shoulders, neck, and back.

2. Roll onto your left side, so that your knees are bent 90 degrees, as if sitting, with your right knee on top of the left, right foot on top of the left. If it is comfortable, have your left arm stretched out above your head on the floor, and rest your head on your upper arm. If this is uncomfortable, place your left arm where it is comfortable, and rest your head on a firm support a few inches thick, to support your neck in line with your upper spine. Have your right elbow bent, and your right palm resting on the floor in front of your upper chest. Which way are the fingers pointing? Away from you? Toward you? Up, toward your head? Down, toward your feet?

3. Same position. Imagine that your right hand is holding a doorknob coming out of the floor...gently turn the imaginary knob clockwise and counterclockwise...notice where "neutral" is, and notice the range of easy movement around "neutral." How does your elbow move in space? Let your right shoulder move freely...then let it go and rest.

4. Same position, now with your right palm on the floor, with the fingers pointing up (toward top of head). Now explore a movement of taking your right elbow and shoulder forward, and return to the center...repeat it many times...bring your awareness to your shoulder blade, collarbone, neck, head, and sternum as you repeat the movement...your upper body rolls a little forward each time...then let it go and rest.

5. Same position. This time, take your shoulder backward...your shoulder blade goes closer to your spine, your upper body rolls back a little, and your face might roll a little toward the ceiling...then return to neutral in the center...repeat it several times....then rest.

6. Combine #4 and #5, so you take your right shoulder forward, and then through the center and back...then through the center to forward, exploring the whole range of forward and backward with the shoulder...feel how your whole body responds...what does your head want to do?...move your right arm so it lies extended along your right side...roll your arm forward (thumb down) as the shoulder goes forward, and roll it palm up as the shoulder goes back...Let it go and rest on your back. Notice any differences between your right and left sides against the floor.

7. Come onto your left side as before, palm on the floor in front of you. Now explore a movement of lifting your right shoulder toward your right ear, then returning it to neutral...repeat it gently many times...what is the part of the shoulder you are focusing on lifting? Shift your focus to another part, like the collarbone, or shoulder blade, and continue...try to make the movement smooth and effortless....then rest.

8. Same position, now take the shoulder down away from your ear, and return to center...just do what is very easy and comfortable, don't stretch or force...try it with your arm lying along your right side, and see how that is...then put the palm back on the floor, and explore the whole movement, taking the shoulder both up and then down...repeat it many times, but each time as if it were the first...then rest.

9. Same position, with the right palm on the floor. Take your shoulder many times in a slow, clockwise circle, forward, down, back, up, and forward...go slowly, smoothing out any rough spots...take your time, make the movement round and smooth, and related somehow to your breath...then continue, counterclockwise...and rest.

10. Same position, on your left side. Lift your right elbow toward the ceiling above your shoulder and let your forearm and wrist and hand hang loosely from your elbow, the fingertips near your right armpit...keeping your hand near your shoulder, (like a folded wing) take your elbow forward and back several times...let your upper body roll, and let your head roll a little if it wants...and rest.

11. Same position as #10. Now bring your elbow up toward your head, and then take it down toward your waist, and go back and forth, slowly...after you've down this several times, change the movement so that when your elbow comes up toward your head, you lift your head a little away from the floor...the movement is mostly from your neck....then when the elbow comes to the waist, and the upper arm is against the ribs, again lift your head away from the floor a little...this movement lifts the head by shortening the whole right side...go back and forth like that, taking the elbow up and down, and lifting the head a little at each end, and noticing how you use yourself differently to lift your head at each extreme...and rest.

12. Same position, elbow up, hand near armpit. Take elbow in a circle, and let shoulder and upper body participate...it's okay if hips roll a little forward and back, also...do it many times, then change direction....and then rest.

13. Same position. Put your right hand over the top of your head so the fingertips are near your left ear...and then lift your left ear away from the floor, using your arm to help the movement....do it a number of times...then let it go, roll onto your back, and rest. Notice how different the two shoulders feel against the floor!

14. Repeat #2 through # 13 on the other side.

15. Rest on your back. Notice how differently your shoulders lie against the floor from when you started the lesson. Roll to your side, sit up, and come to standing. Walk around and continue to observe new sensations.