3 Upper Body Alignment Assessments

You've heard the following, yeah?

"Stand up straight!"

"Pull your shoulders back!"

"Chin up!"

"Open your heart!"

"Don't slouch!"

Whether it was your parents, your yoga instructor or you observing what passed for beautiful/powerful/desirable in your culture, you probably internalized some version of the above messages. 

The messages above are given as solutions to a problem but they're really just masks designed to address your appearance. 

The problem remains for most of us in our modern lifestyles: we've got excess thoracic kyphosis (that's the rounding forward of the upper spine), internally rotated humeri (that's the upper arm bones coming in and forward toward each other) and a really glummy shoulder girdle (that's totally technical, yeah?). 

If you're like almost every single client or student of mine, then my guess is that when you think you are *fixing* this hyperkyphosis and this internal rotation and this glummyness, what you are really doing is *HIDING* it.

Here are three assessments to help you figure out what's going on in your body. 


Assessment 1: The Rib Drop

Step One - Stand with your feet a couple of inches from the wall and bring the back of your head to the wall.

Step Two - Allow your chest to roll forward and down, your head coming off the wall, until the lower part of your rib cage touches the wall.

Step Three - Move off the wall.

If you were able to get your ribs down and back into your body (and sometimes a psoas release is needed first), then what you are looking at now is the actual position of your upper spine. No amount of standing up straight actually corrects this - which is why it's there even though you've been doing what your mother told you all these years.

Join the crowd, baby: you've got some hyperkyphosis.

Why is this a problem?
Well, to start with, your spine is collapsing forward. You're losing the leverage that it needs to keep you upright, something most of us want to maintain for as many of our days as possible. But you're also interfering with your breathing capacity, flow to your brain and shoulder mechanics. 

And then there is the mask. Your culture wants you upright. Your brain wants your eyes level. Most of us make this correction by shearing our spine (lifting our rib cage) and tilting the chin up. This creates an overuse pattern in these joints and decreases core strength and function, just to name a few issues that arise.


Assessment 2: The Arm Raise

Step One - Come back to the wall so that your lower ribs hit.

Step Two - Lift your arms up and out in front on you as high as they can go without the rib cage lifting, too. Your spine will stay exactly where it started.

You can see I don't actually have the range of motion to get my arms much above shoulder height. Anytime I execute a movement where my arms go overhead, I am making that adjustment mostly in my mid-back - generally in the same place over and over and over again - and in my cervical spine, to keep my head straight. Not only does my shoulder need the ability to move my arms overhead all by their lonesome to stay healthy, but my ribs need this leverage in order to maintain bone density and various parts of my spine are getting over used. 

Less than optimal.

How'd you do?


Assessment 3: The De-Winged Scapula

Step One - Check out the resting position of your shoulder blades. Using your hand or a mirror, notice if there is any "winging" or bony edges sticking out.

Step Two - Pull your shoulders forward and maybe up until the bony edge disappears and becomes flush with the muscles of your back.

Step Three - Allow your arms to drop down.

And this, my friends, is how forward my shoulders really are. Where are yours?

When you've gotten your scapula (shoulder blades) into their current neutral, you can see how tight your pectoral muscles, among others, really are. No amount of pulling your shoulder blades together makes this go away because the shoulder needs to rotate out and back in order to lengthen the pecs. 

This forward displacement - and the common "correction" of pulling the shoulder blades together - is part of that spinal destabilization that I mentioned above. Not to mention the blood flow into and out of the breast tissue or down and out through your arms getting constricted or the capacity to breathe decreasing. 



I offer these assessments in the hope that they offer you a window into your mechanics, a new way of understanding what may be going on in your body, an impetus to let go of masking your alignment and, instead ,to address it, to work on it, to embrace the path of MORE health for your whole body. 

When we are ready to see ourselves as we are, we can begin to make real change. And yes, it's possible to do this without judgment. Stay curious, stay connected, keep breathing, keep loving on yourself. Because wherever you are is beautiful and is an embodiment of the life you've lived.

If you want it to be different, that's cool, too. By making some shifts, that can happen. 

As you might imagine, I'd like to address some of the tension in my own upper body. :) It's been a lot of computer time for me this season, and a decent amount of grief - two things that tend to contribute to the alignment patterns I'm working on shifting. 

So I'm running On Top, the 5 Day Upper Body Freedom Challenge - STARTING tomorrow!


  • Five days of working together
  • Two mini-alignment lessons from Launch Your Resilient Life
  • One psoas release instructional
  • Two 30-min workout videos each day
  • Support as you need it
  • A live webcast at the end of the challenge



You can get the challenge delivered directly to your inbox here: http://eepurl.com/b1UJCX

And/or you can join via Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theresilientbody/

Are you ready to do some amazing upper body work to increase the function of your WHOLE BODY?

Let's play!