Updated: Jan 16
Shoulder and chest opening yoga poses are really useful to help counter the natural tendency we all have to slouch and close the front of our bodies.
During this blog we’ll explore eight shoulder and chest opening poses that can help open the front of our body.
Want to be guided through a series of backbends that help open your shoulder and chest? You can also practice along to the below breathing in backbends video, where you’ll be guided to work on your breathing in these seven shoulder and chest openers.
Because these postures are different to our everyday positions you might feel some resistance to open up. This resistance can show up not only in our bodies but also in our breathing pattern.
Therefore, when you try out these eight yoga poses see if you can resist the natural tendency to shorten the breath and do your best instead to lengthen and deepen your breath.
(1) Low Lunge Pose with Backbend | Anjaneyasana Variation
A low lunge pose with a slight backbend can be a great way to gently open your shoulders and chest.
Once you’ve set up the position with your feet and legs, allow your spine to lengthen as you breath in and reach your arms actively up and slightly back.
Actively firm your belly to protect your lower back as you keep lengthening on your inhale and maybe leaning a little further back on your exhale. You can stay here for around 5 – 10 breaths.
(2) Sun Salutations with Backbend Variation | Surya Namaskar Variation
A sun salutations yoga flow with a specific backbend variation can help you keep the focus on opening the front of your body as you warm the body up through these dynamic movements. Experiment with the first part of the sun salutation to reach the arms up and back, in a similar way to the low lunge pose.
For most of us our shoulders will automatically want to lift up towards our ears when we reach our arms overhead. See if you can counteract that by actively dropping your shoulders down and spreading shoulder blades apart as the arms reach up overhead.
You can do anywhere from 3 – 10 sun salutations to warm up the body. See if you can keep your breathing slow and steady, using one breath per movement.
(3) Devotional Warrior | Baddha Virabhadrasana
The devotional warrior yoga pose is a great way to open both your shoulders and chest. Interlace your fingers behind your back and actively reach your arms up and back. See if you can maintain that opening in the shoulders as you fold forward with your upper body.
Make sure you switch the interlace of the fingers when you change legs to get a balance of opening the shoulders and chest. For example, when you have your right foot forward you could also have your right index finger on top of your interlaced hands. And then when you switch to having your left foot forward make sure you also have your left index finger on top of the interlaced hands.
You can play with how close you bring the palms of the hands when they’re interlaced. And how if feels to keep your arms slightly bent. These subtle variations can help opening your shoulder in a slightly different way.
Once in the pose stay for around five smooth breaths before switching sides.
(4) Eagle Pose | Garudasana
The eagle pose is a great posture for releasing tension in the muscles at the top of your shoulders. If your shoulder do feel a bit tighter it might not feel appropriate to wrap the arms and bring palms together. You could then choose to simply cross the elbows and bring as best as you can back of the palms together.
If you are able to bring the palms towards each other, you can also play with lifting your elbows a little up and reaching hands away from your face.
To begin with you could choose to focus only on the arms and keep both feet on the ground. Once you’re comfortable with the arm position you can work also on crossing the legs and balancing.
Pause in the pose for five breaths and then change to the opposite side.
(5) Cobra Pose | Bhujangasana
The cobra pose is a great foundational backbend posture to work on shoulder and chest opening. Before moving into the pose make sure that your palms are under the shoulders and elbows are drawing inwards (rather than out and away from your body).
Use your inhale to lengthen your spine forward and try to maintain that length as you lift your chest up. Hips and legs can stay heavy throughout.
Notice if your shoulders are rising up and see if you can instead allow your shoulders to drop down and neck to stay long.
Pause in the pose for around five steady breaths. Option to repeat a couple more times if you wish.
(6) Locust Pose | Salabhasana Variation
The locust pose with hands interlaced behind the back combines a few actions of some of the previous poses to help open even more your shoulders and chest.
Begin by interlacing your hands behind your back. Use then when your ready the next inhale to reach the chest forward and up, while at the same time legs start to extend and lengthen backwards and arms reach a little up and back.
One of the hardest things to do in this posture is to keep breathing deeply! So if you notice your breath starts to become restricted come a little less deep in the pose and focus more on slowing down and lengthening each inhale and exhale.
If holding the pose for five breaths feels too much you could also move in and out with each inhale and exhale. Doing your best to keep your face relaxed throughout.
(7) Seated Side Stretch Pose | Parsva Upavistha Konasana
This seated side stretch pose is a good way to create more length and space in the sides of your torso, shoulders and chest.
Use your inhale to reach one arm up and exhale to reach that arm to the opposite side. It can feel nice to first alternate in and out of the pose a few times before pausing in the pose.
When you do pause and reach to one side, keep allow your hips to stay heavy as you actively lengthen your torso and extend to the side. To create even more space you can try spinning your torso up towards the ceiling. That way you create more opening in your shoulders and chest.
Stay in the pose for 5 – 10 breaths and then switch to the opposite side.
(8) Camel Pose | Ustrasana
The camel pose is a great way to finish a yoga sequence focused on opening the shoulders and chest.
First start with your hands on your hips and actively draw your elbows back towards each other. Like many of these other backbends you want to work on lengthening the spine and lifting the chest up.
Keep your belly firm and hips drawing forward, as you start to gaze up and lean a little up and back with your shoulders.
If you can stay here for around five breaths. And then make sure you keep that firmness in the belly to come safely out of the pose.
Tips for Practice
If you're new to practicing some of these poses you might choose to start focusing on one or two of the postures and then build up to the full sequence as you get comfortable with the poses.
You could also try practicing each pose three times to really focus on your technique and creating the space in your shoulders and chest.
If you enjoyed this blog and yoga sequence you could also try breathing in yoga twists practice that focuses more on spine mobility.
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