In this exploration I want to bring your attention to your shoulders. I choose this part of you because it is a part of us so loaded with meaning: the shoulder is where we bear burdens, where we push to exert our strength, where we connect with others to express resistance, standing shoulder to shoulder. There is a lovely old expression, being “narrow in the shoulders”, meaning someone can’t bear ridicule. It is the place of active, usually subconscious, physical self-assurance.
I want to focus on the muscle which forms the most obvious mass of the fleshy substance of the chest, the larger of the pectoral muscles. This is a large fan-shaped muscle which is connected to the collar bone, the breast bone and the front of the upper ribs. The muscle converges to a tendon which is connected to our upper arm bone, the humerus, in a groove on the front of this bone at the top. You can feel the converging muscle heading for its insertion at the front of your armpit. The way it converges from a wide origin makes it a very powerful muscle. It is involved in various movements of the arm and shoulder, most obviously bringing your arm down and forward and across your body. An important element in the actions to which this muscle contributes is that it tends to pull the upper arm round towards the front of us, narrowing us across the front of the shoulder. Subconsciously the shoulder is being drawn more into our attention, is becoming more defined and isolated as a place we use, overuse, by this pulling of the arm round in front of us, losing the width at the top of the arms. In my part of the country we have this lovely old word for the armpit, the oxter. The Alexander Technique encourages for me an interest in the oxter – and it’s hard to be interested in something called the arm-pit! You find the pectoral muscle at the front of the oxter. At the back, as a tendon defining it, you find the equally large muscle of your back which began as a big fan converging from your spine and, lower down, from your pelvis. This muscle comes sweeping through the back of the oxter and ends up connecting with the arm bone right next to the pectoral muscle. Although this muscle draws the arm back behind you and seems to be the balance or opposite to the pectoral muscle, it too turns the arm in and round to the front.
More and more we start doing a lot in our shoulders, losing their connection to our back. These big muscles, allow all sorts of forceful, energetic actions with our arms. But they are not the whole story and to keep free and integrated we need other movements, other qualities of movement, which keep the shoulders open and allow our hands their full range of exploration. So, try not to rely on your shoulders alone; follow them into your back.