The Trapezius Muscle
Understanding the basics of the "Traps' helps you create awareness in how you stand, not only in your Yoga practise but generally speaking. Look at the image below and visualise the middle section of the Trapezius contracting to bring the shoulder blades closer together. This awareness will help you find your authentic posture where your bones are properly aligned and your muscles, joints and ligaments can work efficiently. Good posture and good health go hand in hand. As Loretta Young once said, "Unless some misfortune has made it impossible, everyone can have good posture".
The Trapezius or “traps”, run from the base of the skull and the spine out to the shoulder blades, covering most of your middle and upper back.
Although the upper and lower parts of the trapezius help in bringing the shoulder blades closer together, it is mainly the middle section of the trapezius (whose fibers run horizontally from the upper and middle part of the spine to the inner edge of the shoulder blade) which does much of the work of pulling the shoulder blades towards the spine.
Along with pulling the shoulder blades towards the spine, the upper traps lifts the shoulder blades up, while the lower traps pulls it down. But those actions usually cancel each other out, so when the whole muscle contracts it pulls the shoulder blades towards the spine. Immediately beneath the trapezius lies the rhomboid which runs between the spine and the inner edge of the shoulder blades.
Several yoga poses draw your traps and rhomboids together. Understanding what is happening in these poses will help "sharpen your awareness" and take this feeling away from your yoga mat and help you replicate this sensation in the "real world".
In Warrior 2, for example, you should feel your shoulder blades coming together creating a slight lift in your chest. This small but subtle movement "opens" the chest and creates the authentic posture the pose requires. Try to focus on this feeling and attempt to replicate this in other areas of your life. In Upward Facing Dog, you can feel your shoulder blades contract to bring the shoulder blades much closer together. This expands and stretches the chest muscles and your rib cage.
To focus on your posture, visualise and then feel a slight drawing together of your shoulder blades. The movement is not great but enough to lift your chest and walk with an air of authority.
When your focus is on back bending, the feeling in your shoulder blades should be much greater. The trapezius should fully contract to pull your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest and allowing you to create a backbend in the stubborn thoracic region of your spine.
You can also be tight in and around your shoulder blades so stretching them will also help keep your body aligned. Eagle Pose is a great stretch for the middle fibres of the Traps and rhomboids if done correctly.
Image from Ray Long
When in your Eagle Pose, allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears and then push forward with your elbows. Feel the chest muscles contract and your shoulder blades come away from each other. This will theoretically stretch your Traps and Rhomboids. I say theoretically because anatomy is never that straight forward😭
More on that another time. For now, use your understanding of your Trapezius muscle(s) to stand tall and positive. Correct Posture is about more than looking confident and poised. Sitting or standing in the right position can completely change the way you think, feel and experience life.
Zahir Akram has a number of qualifications in Human Biomechanics (the understanding of human movement) and Anatomy & Phsysiology. Zahir will be teaching various modules of our yoga teacher training programme beginning in May 2017 and is available for 121 bookings. For more information contact Zahir on 07577 422132.