I recently read a blog post by Dr. Christiane Northrup about frozen shoulder syndrome in which she talks about her own experiences with this common shoulder problem (spoiler alert: she goes on a yoga retreat!)
She also mentioned that in traditional Chinese medicine this syndrome is referred to as ‘the 50 year old shoulder’ because it occurs with so much frequency in women of this age group. I remember learning this in my training and questioning – why? The answer was that no one really knows for sure.
Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis (AC) is pain or stiffness when the shoulder or arm is moved in certain ways – especially moving the arm back while overhead. If you have this condition, you should see a doctor as well as perhaps consider a private yoga session to find out what you should do to modify poses in yoga classes.
This condition is sometimes thought to be because of injury or an underlying condition like arthritis but any shoulder problem can lead to frozen shoulder. I also see disuse as a contributing factor. We just don’t move the way we are evolved to. I think many of us in our day to day life do not reach and stretch or strengthen our shoulders enough. In addition to the physical causes though, I also think there may be mental, emotional and social factors.
In her post Dr. Northrup discusses the physiology of the problem but also addresses the emotional and mental aspects. Judging by the comments on the post, Dr. Northrup hit a cord when she talked about ‘the weight of the world on our shoulders’.
Here is what I have noticed in my own life.
Midlife can be really hard.
Our bodies may be wearing down from years of disuse or abuse and at the same time we are going through natural life changes like menopause or peri-menopause.
There are major stressors in midlife too. Divorce, financial problems and health issues are all things that can happen at any age but for those of us in midlife there are two other life ‘stressors’ that are almost unavoidable.
Our parents are dying and our kids are leaving.
Or they aren’t.
I have so many friends who are taking care of their parents in one way or another. Often these friends are also supporting kids through a first degree or college.
My siblings and I are caring for my mom right now and she is needing lots of help.
My mom is in her nineties and it is tough for us to see her get more frail and become more pronounced in her Parkinson’s symptoms. Her quality of life frankly sucks. A friend who is taking care of her mom with Alzheimer’s said to me the other day with tears in her eyes, “I don’t want my mom to die but I don’t want her to go on living either”.
On the other side of the midlife sandwich is kids.
My children alternately seem like they may never launch or they seem like they are moving away from me to fast. I know they need to make their own mistakes but it is difficult to watch. It is the classic ‘go-away-come-closer’ dance and I do not stop worrying even if I manage to let them ‘adult’ for themselves.
No wonder shoulders (and the parts of us) ‘freeze up’.
We are bearing a lot of responsibility and sometimes sadness. We need to be strong and resilient both physically and mentally. When you do yoga you give your nervous system a break. That is a big deal! I sometimes joke that if you came and did nothing but breathe fully and with attention that yoga is worth it.
I believe grief and all emotions are stored in the body as well as the mind and feeling is better than stuffing. When you move in a dynamic way the emotions can flow through you more easily and you become a stronger vessel.
Our practices that include strength, breath and a relaxation component are more important than ever.
Check out this 10 minute shoulder strength/mobility video.
Check out this 10 minute breath practice for relaxation