Together with the neck and shoulders the spine supports the upper body and full body movement. We don’t often think about the spine, shoulders or neck unless we begin to feel some discomfort. We should. One of the strongest arguments for proper alignment of the shoulder, neck and spine is their overall contribution to comfort and health. When these essential supports are out of alignment the body operates somewhat like a car might with a flat tire. Smooth and efficient movement of the body is dependent upon proper alignment of the neck, spine and shoulders.  In fact, if you become out of alignment a number of problems can arise. This can include balance, gait and posture issues. When these mechanics are compromised due to poor alignment physical problems are compounded and result in additional stress on your back, knees and hips.

 Check your alignment There are a couple of things you can do to check your own alignment.  The easiest way to check is just to take a look. Stand in front of the mirror facing forward. Your shoulders should be below, rather than in front of your ears allowing your hands to fall along the side of your thighs. Adjust your shoulders if your hands fall closer to the front of your thighs. Next stand with your right or left shoulder facing the mirror, you should not see a significant extension of your shoulder blade. Your shoulders, neck and spine should approximate the look of a sword or the small letter “t.” Notice your alignment throughout the day. Alignment really does matter whether you are sitting at a desk or jogging around the park. When you are seated try to imagine a stack of blocks that starts at the base of your spine and continues through to the top of your head. Each block should be perfectly placed upon the one before it.  If you have trouble maintaining your posture while seated, consider placing a small pillow at the base of your spine. When you are running use body awareness to maintain proper alignment. Your shoulders should be held back and your neck upright. If you notice any tightness and tension adjust your alignment as needed. Periodically observing your neck and shoulders is helpful for keeping your spine in place.

Support your alignment Consider Pilates or yoga to support shoulder, neck and spine alignment. There are several yoga poses, such as the downward facing dog pose, cat pose, cobra pose and cow pose that can help. Two examples follow below.

Downward facing dog Think of your body as a triangle or inverted “v” on the floor. Your upper body forms one side of the triangle (with arms and back straight) and your legs (with knees straight) form the other side. Your hands and feet are flat on the floor and the crown of your head faces the floor as well.

Cat Pose Imagine your body as a table on the floor or in the position you might adopt (on all fours) while pretending to be an animal. With your knees still bent and the bottoms of your feet facing up, extend your arms fully and arch your back. Maintaining shoulder, neck and spine alignment is largely a matter of observation, adjustment and practice. Notice when you are out of alignment, adjust your posture and practice yoga and body awareness to maintain proper alignment in support of your overall health.