Alignment Snacks: Everybody Needs A Little Shoulder Bolster

Katy Bowman
Year Released: 2013

Categories: Athletic Stretch , Instructional / How To Videos , Special Health Conditions

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I've know about Katy Bowman for years, occasionally following her blog or her Facebook page, but I have only recently downloaded a few of the "Alignment Snacks" from her web site, These are 25-35 movement-focused classes offered for $5 each. Katy is teaching live in front of a live class (who you sometimes hear but never see).

As the title would suggest, this class focuses on the shoulders, although there is some hamstring work thrown in as well. (Many of the classes target muscles other than the main focus area.) You will need a bolster or something similar such as a very firm pillow or several stacked blankets. The bolster is used throughout the class, which is performed entirely on the floor.

Katy begins with the shoulder blades (scapula) propped on the bolster, ribs on the floor, legs stretched out (an additional support under the head is optional). With the arms in a "T" position, she performs movements to stretch the pectoral muscles, including external rotation of the arms. The arms are actually rotated to the extent the elbows lift, although the thumbs remain down. Next, Katy has you bring your laced fingers/arms overhead, but without raising your rib cage. She performs additional work for the pectorals by touching the elbows together in front of the chest while keeping the arms straight; with the arms in this position, she again raises them overhead.

Taking a break from the arms, Katy performs a reclined leg stretch for the hamstrings, taking her time with each side. She then moves to stretching more of the hip/pelvic muscles by crossing one calf over the other in a triangle shape (similar to firelog pose in yoga) while still keeping the scapula on the bolster. The final movements are performed from a hands and knees position. First, Katy places the arms parallel on the bolster and stretches back, trying to focus on keeping the arms externally rotated (hard!). Next, she stretches each arm in turn diagonally across the bolster to further stretch the shoulder, and that's it!

Overall, I felt that this was a good, stretchy class that is particularly useful for helping to combat internal rotation of the shoulders that comes from activities such as driving and computer use.

Instructor Comments:
Katy is rather goofy, but I like her! She's not above giving mini-lectures about alignment or other issues she feels strongly about--here, it's the problems caused by wearing shoes in modern life--so if that kind of thing turns you off, you may not click with her style.

Beth C (aka toaster)


Katy Bowman’s “Alignment Snacks” are short (20-30 minute) downloads which focus on body alignment. In each “snack,” Katy leads an unseen (but not necessarily unheard) class through an alignment session consisting of various stretches and/or gentle exercises. These movements are performed while Katy provides information on proper alignment. The snacks currently cost $5 each; you can find them on her website ( under the “Move” tab.

This review is for Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster. At just over 35 minutes, it’s one of the longer sessions. As the name suggests, it targets the shoulders; however, there are also stretches for the hamstrings and hips. This was one of her winners, in my view. I felt very relaxed and stretched out at the end of it.

The session begins lying on the floor, with your scapulae resting on a bolster. Katy suggests using a sleeping bag instead if you don't have a bolster handy. Katy spends the first two or three minutes giving alignment tips and just hanging out on the bolster, then she has you extend your arms to the side, while externally rotating them. For the next four minutes or so, you slowly move your arms up towards your head while keeping your ribs down; Katy shows how to test your range of motion here. At about the 7 minute mark, you stretch your fingers/hands/shoulders by extending them up, and then over, your head. There is another nice range of motion test, and then it’s on to two final stretches for your arms/shoulders (elbows together and overhead, then arms at sides and elbows externally rotated).

At about the 18.5 minute mark, Katy switches to the lower body, beginning with six minutes of hamstring stretches. While you're stretching, Katy explains how shoes shorten the achilles tendons (and how zero-heeled footwear has been shown to have a positive effect on those who have osteoarthritis). Katy moves on to another six minutes of stretches on your back for the hips, then ends with a final series of shoulder stretches using the bolster. Very nice!

Equipment used: a mat, a bolster, a half dome or pillow (optional), and a strap (optional)

What I Liked / Things to Consider

The purpose of this session isn’t to work out. It’s to provide alignment information and then put it into practice through motion. So if you’re looking for pure stretch, you may be disappointed in the snacks. Then again, this was one of the stretchier ones so it’s a good starting place if you’d like to try one out. (At the moment, Katy also offers a free snack on her website — Can’t Get Enough Shoulders— which you could try instead.)

So far, I’ve done more than half of the snacks in the series, and this is one of my favorites. The stretches felt great, and there is a steady stream of alignment tidbits / information. I learned (or was reminded of) the difference between alignment and posture (alignment is how body parts are operating in relation to each other), the purpose of lymph nodes (to aid in the metabolism of waste), and how important it is to just take some time each day to relax (stress really does take a toll on health). All in all, this was a nice, feel good session, and I’m sure I’ll do it again and again. I’ve done it twice and have enjoyed it both times.

Instructor Comments:
Katy is a little silly in this one (at one point, she tells you that you should put something under your head like a pillow… or a small child… or a puppy (huh??)). Also, the class is more vocal than usual (there were some comments, laughs, groans, etc). Katy talks to them sometimes. Some people might find this to be a little annoying. I did at times, but mostly I thought it was ok.