If you’ve been doing Iyengar yoga for some time, at some point or another you will have encountered the infamous shoulder jacket. Whether you’ve had shoulder / neck issues in the past, or you simply went to a workshop where the teacher was working on that region, the shoulder jacket is an easy way to help your posture by relaxing your neck muscles and bringing the shoulder blades close by each other.
A shoulder jacket can easily be made by using a long belt. You can find the description (and many more options for using belts and ropes to help your shoulders) in Lois Steinberg’s Iyengar Yoga Asana Alternatives: the Neck and Shoulders. A short description so that you can try it at home even if you don’t have the book:
- take one handle of the belt in each hand.
- bring the belt to your back, with the center of the belt on your spine, and one side of the belt going through between your arms and the sides of your chest. Repeat the other side.
- the belt should be just under the armpits, with the belt’s extremities in front of your body.
- now bring (well, I “throw over” but that’s not very yogic) the belt’s extremities over your shoulders so that they are in your back.
- cross the handles so that your right hand holds the originally left handle, and the left hand holds the originally right handle
- make sure that the belt is not cutting through your skin, especially under the armpit, and that the part over your shoulders is on the bulky part of the trapezius muscle, not the bone.
- pull the belt handles down. You should feel the shoulder blades going towards each other and the chest lifting. The downward pressure on the the trapezius should help relax them.
While I was looking for the source of that picture, I found out it actually comes from this video where a shoulder jacket is used in down dog. It doesn’t need to be used with a partner, you can simply stand in tadasana with the shoulder jacket and pull the ropes down yourself.
Also, I don’t know if it’s me, but I’ve seen this “buckling” of the belt forward on multiple pictures, and while I understand why people do that, I feel it defeats a bit the purpose imo. I think it confuses the direction of the action. But maybe that’s just me – at this point sometimes I feel things and have been working on feeling the skin direction and such subtle aspects, but I’m a bit uncertain of whether what I’m feeling is correct or not.
Anyhow if you want to do standing poses (or other) with a shoulder jacket on, by all means do so, but I would advise to use a slightly shorter belt that can just hang, or a different version of the shoulder jacket. In that version, you make a large loop in the belt, step in the loop, position the belt on the back / under the armpits as in the previously described version, and bring the part of the belt in front of you over your shoulders. You now have a loop hanging in your back. Bring it in between the belt that it perpendicular to your spine and your shirt, adjust, and pull down. This should keep the belt in place as well as the imprint, without having a tripping hazard.
So. Did you try it at home? Is this your favorite thing ever? Do you talk about it to everyone you meet and their neighbor? Well, I’ve just saved you $30. Yep, I couldn’t believe it when I saw an advertisement for this product online today. A shoulder jacket is a better version (though admittedly probably less comfy) of this product, and a belt, if you’re not hang up on getting an Iyengar belt, can be as low as $5 (on Amazon, not sponsored) – and you can use it in so many other ways! True, you probably won’t go hiking with your yoga belt (even though…) but if you use the shoulder jacket everyday, even for 15 minutes, I guarantee you will see improvement in your posture.