Yoga tends to be one of the few disciplines that has a big focus on opening the shoulders. However, as a beginner or someone with tight shoulders some of the most common yoga stretches and exercises can feel challenging and out of reach.
In this blog we’ll be exploring how to approach some beginner and all level yoga postures focused on opening the shoulders. With the aim of helping you understand a bit better how to practice and approach shoulder openers to get the most out of them.
This guided yoga practice focused on shoulder stretches and exercises that you can do at home. It walks you through some of the most common yoga poses and how to approach them.
Shoulder Warm Up Exercises
You can start by finding a comfortable seated position. We're going to do a few dynamic circles with the arms to help warm up and open the shoulders. You can do this with your eyes closed or open.
Inhale, as you reach your arms high and overhead. Exhale, to lower the arms back down again. Inhaling, again lifting up through the arms and exhaling, back down. Seeing if you can spin the palms up as you reach the arms up and drop the palms down as you circle the arms back down.
Repeating anywhere from 5 – 20 rounds until you feel that you’ve got sufficient movement and heat in your body.
If your shoulders feel tight and that mobility is limited, you can bring your arms a little more in towards the middle. Perhaps keeping a small bend in the elbows and not reaching the arms overhead.
While if you feel comfortable, you can be working on actively lengthening your arms and bringing your arms further back in line with the back of your ears and shoulders. As well as reaching your arms right up over the head.
After moving dynamically back and forth for a few rounds, you can pause for a few breaths extending your arms up towards the ceiling. Again you can adapt this position easily by bringing arms more in front or lower down as needed.
Shoulder Stretches for Mobility
Once the body is feeling warmer, you can try interlacing your fingers and extending your hands and arms up and away. Again, if you’re newer to this or feel more tension in the shoulders, feel free to slightly bend the elbows and not reach your arms up so high.
Over time you can experiment with how it feels to gradually lift and lengthen the arms up and back. Staying here for around 5 – 10 breaths.
Since shoulder mobility and backbends closely link together, you’ll often find that by lifting your chest more up and allowing your back to arch it will help you get a bit deeper into the shoulder stretch.
So after you’ve found your position with the arms feel free to experiment with lifting up through your chest and perhaps bringing your gaze to look up.
From here it can feel nice to stretch into the sides of your shoulders and lats by adding some side stretches. You can again start dynamically moving from side to side, one breath per movement.
As you lean over to the right side, see if you can at the same time keep your left hip heavy and breathe into the left side of your ribcage. Coming from here back through the middle as you inhale and lengthen, and then exhale over to the left side.
Again, if you need you can keep your elbows a little bent and arms more forward.
One thing to watch here is that you want to keep the front of your shoulders and hips facing forward as you move from side to side.
If you notice that when you stretch over to the right that your left shoulder is dropping down it’s a sign that you’ve bent too far over to the right. And in this case you’ll get more out of the posture by keeping the spine long, front of the left shoulder facing forward and not going so deep into the side bend.
Another reason your shoulders can feel tight is due to tension in the shoulders that causes them to naturally lift up towards your ears. The Child’s Pose is a great posture where you can focus on releasing and relaxing around your shoulders.
If you find there’s a lot of pressure on your knees you can try placing a folded blanket under for extra cushioning.
The other thing you can experiment with is bringing your knees a bit wider so that you have more space to drop your head down and reach your arms out in front.
Staying here for anywhere from 5 – 20 breaths. Focusing specifically on relaxing your shoulders with every exhale.
If the regular Child’s Pose feels comfortable, you can try a variation with your elbows bent and hands together overhead.
So for this version, you’re keeping the elbows on the ground and drawing your hands back behind the head. You could also play with just walking the elbows a little further away if that feels accessible.
This variation can help stretch and open a bit more through the front of your shoulders. But also requires your shoulders to already be relatively open to be able to approach the posture.
So if this version doesn’t feel good, feel free to stick with the regular Child’s Pose. And then instead of having the elbows bent try activating and lengthening the arms with the elbows lifted off the ground.
If you've got the space, you might play with creeping the arms a little forward and dropping the hips a little down and back. Staying here a few slow and steady breaths.
We're now coming into a Standing Forward Bend, Uttanasana. You can bend the knees as deeply as you like here. Hands are coming behind your back to interlace your fingers.
If it feels comfortable, you're actively reaching the arms up and over the head as you drop your head down. Now if this feels a little intense, another option could be holding the wrists, the back of the forearms, or the elbows. But if it's okay, you can interlace the fingers and just kind of press the arms up and away.
Since our main focus today is on the shoulders feel free to bend the knees as much as you need. Staying here for at least five breaths.
Tips for Practicing Shoulder Stretches at Home
So I hope you found this helpful to explore a little bit the basic principles of how you can start to work on the mobility and stretching of the shoulders. As well as how you can adapt these yoga poses if they feel uncomfortable.
You'll have noticed a pattern in the way we’ve been approaching these postures. If there's any tightness or tension in your shoulders when you're reaching the arms up the first thing to experiment with is bringing the arms a little more forward and keeping the elbow a little bent.
It's worth noting that tightness doesn't necessarily equal strong shoulders. So you may, if you've if you have got a weakness in the shoulders, in addition to some of this mobility and stretching it might also really support you to work a little bit on shoulder strengthening. So you might want to try practicing postures like the Plank Pose to also work on building strength and stability.
Another thing I would like to mention is shoulder opening is a really great segway into back bending. Since when we're doing backbends we're also opening through the chest. So if you want to kind of continue after this practice exploring backbends like the Bridge Pose or explore using backbends with a yoga wheel.
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