We practice yoga in Costa Rica at the beautiful retreat of Panacea de la Montaña. This week on our blog we have a series of yoga stretches for shoulders to help you improve your posture, breathing, and digestion and bring about better use of the muscles of your upper back, arms and chest.
Please note that if you have an existing or old shoulder injury, some of these suggestions for shoulder and back stretches may not be for you – please use care and sensitivity for how far to go, and if you are unsure, check with your teacher.
Simple yoga shoulder stretches
Yoga Stretch 1
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. Use a blanket or two if necessary. Then put your fingertips on the floor to each side. Lightly press down and feel how your shoulder blades come into your upper back and how your collarbones spread out. Take 5-10 nice deep breaths.
Yoga Stretch 2
Still sitting cross-legged, now place your hands on your knee caps. Inhale and gently try to draw your knees into your body (only to about 20% of your ability) and hold this for 5 – 10 breaths. Again, feel how the shoulder blades are sitting into your upper back, and how the muscles that draw them in also are helping you to lift the chest and broaden the collar bones.
Yoga Stretch 3
Have a friend help you do the next two stretches. Standing, take your hands behind you, palms facing away from each other, thumbs up. Remember the muscles you used in the first two poses? Engage them as you inhale and gently move the back of your hands towards each other. Have your partner lightly place their hands on the inside of your wrists and hands. On the next couple breaths try to move your hands away from your partner’s.
When you have gone as far as you can, decide if you want your partner to lightly provide a light pressure or not. If so, work together to go a little farther, inhaling together and moving a little deeper on the exhales. Only if your shoulders are feeling ok is it safe to go farther. Stop when your body tells you to and hold there for five breaths. Release together and relax your arms. Switch and assist your friend.
Yoga Stretch 4
Face away from your partner. Either clasp your hands behind you if you have pretty good flexibility, or use a strap between your hands (this will give you more movement if your shoulders are tighter). Standing tall, again activate the muscles around your shoulder blades, reach back through your hands on the inhale, and on the exhale begin to lift your arms up. Have your friend then place his or her hands lightly under your wrists, without pushing up.
On subsequent exhales, you keep lifting your arms away from the input of your partner’s touch. In this stretch and in yoga stretch #2, keep your neck and throat soft, keep your legs active, and keep breathing! If you find you are carrying a lot of tension in your neck and throat or are holding your breath you are going too far. This one and yoga stretch #3 are great preparations to do before a shoulder stand (Sarvangasana).
Enjoy your open shoulders and heart!
For overcoming lower back pain see our previous posts: