Arm, Chest and Shoulder Stretches

arm stretches, puppy dog chest stretch, rack shoulder stretch, dragonfly shoulder stretch, lapasana shoulder stretch, half dragonfly shoulder stretch, arm across throat shoulder stretch
The following shoulder stretches start of with muscle assisted stretches for the arms and shoulders and progress to gravity assisted stretches.

Muscle Assisted Shoulder Stretches

Reaching the Arms Up

A very simple arm stretch is to reach the arms up with fingers clasped. Lift the sides of the ribs and shoulders and straighten the elbows. You can focus on pushing the palms up to the ceiling.

For a rhythmic vinyassa which deepens the stretch gradually and makes breathing easier, slowly push the hands up (lifting the shoulders and the sides of the ribs) and the slowly relax.

Because the hand position is asymmetrical you can switch the interlace of your fingers each time you relax your arms.

shoulder stretch, arms over the head with fingers interlaced. In this slightly relaxed positions the arms are over head with fingers interlaced but the elbows are bent. Palms face upwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga PosesIn this arms over the head shoulder stretch the fingers are interlaced with the elbows straight. The shoulders are lifted, moving upwards towards the ears and the neck is long. The bottom tips of the shoulder blades are widening out to the sides. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

Stretching the Side of the Shoulders with the Arms Up

If you have difficulty touching the hands over the head (say for example like in Warrior 1) the following arm and shoulder stretch may help.

For this over the head shoulder stretch, grab one arm above the elbow with elbow straight. Pull the straight arm outwards to stretch the bent (grabbing) arm. This can be a preparation or substitute for touching the hands over the head with elbows straight. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.In this over the head shoulder stretch one arm is straight. The other hand grabs it and pulls it inwards to stretch the armpit. This can be a preparation or substitute for reaching both arms up over the head (and touching the palms.)

Reach one arm straight upwards and grab it with the other hand. Pull the straight arm outwards so that you stretch the muscles of the bent arm.

Hold for a few breaths while reaching both shoulders upwards.

Next, pull the bent arm outwards so that you stretch the muscles of the straight arm. Again reach both shoulders upwards.

For both of these stretches work at keeping the neck long and the chest open. (This actually applies for most arm and shoulder stretches.)

For either variation experiment with resisting the stretch. So if you are pulling the straight arm outwards, resist with the bent arm.

Triceps Stretch

In this tricpes stretch, bend both elbows with the arms up. Grab one elbow and pull it inwards. Reach the elbow up (using the shoulder) at the same time. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

For a triceps stretch grab an elbow over you head and pull the elbow inwards and backwards. Resist by pulling the elbow outwards. To vary the stretch gradually move the elbow being stretched outwards and inwards.

Stretching the Back of the Shoulders

For this shoulder stretch grab the back of one arm. (The elbow of the arm being grabbed can be straight or bent.) Stretch the back of the grabbing arm by moving the grabbed arm out to the side and backwards.

One way to stretch the back of the shoulder reach an arm out to the side while holding on to the upper arm with the other hand. Then pull the arm back to stretch the shoulder of the grabbing arm. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses. One way to stretch the back of the shoulder reach an arm out to the side while holding on to the upper arm with the other hand. Then pull the arm back to stretch the shoulder of the grabbing arm. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

To vary the stretch move the grabbed arm slightly up or down.

Biceps Arm Stretch

This biceps stretch may be useful for people who can't straighten their elbows.

arm stretch for the bicepsarm stretch for the biceps, neil keleher, sensational yoga poses

It can be done in a half squat position with one knee on the floor, or while sitting with feet on the floor and knees bent upright.

Pllace the left arm across the right thigh with the elbow pointing downwards and the upper arm (not the forearm) resting on the thigh. Keep the left shoulder stable and use the right hand to slowly press down on the left forearm. The goal could be to work at gradually straightening the elbow.

You can experiment with resisting (squeeze the bicep) and then gradually release. You could also experiment with assisting the stretch by using the triceps (at the back of the arm) to help straighten the elbow. In all cases work at gradually and smoothly increasing and decreasing pressure or muscle activation.

Lotus Arm Standing Version

This arm stretch is also for the back of the shoulder. With the elbow bent, place the wrist against the side of the chin with the elbow pointing forwards. Stiffen the neck and then use the other arm to pull the elbow inwards. Move the shoulder blade of the arm being stretched outwards.

In lotus the thigh is externally rotated with the knee bent. In this equivalent for the arm one wrist is against the side of the chin with elbow bend and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.In lotus the thigh is externally rotated with the knee bent. In this equivalent for the arm one wrist is against the side of the chin with elbow bend and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Note that in this position the arm being stretches is externally rotated.

Penguin Single Arm Stretch

Next place the back of one hand or wrist against the waist with the elbow bent and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. Move the shoulder blade of the arm being stretched outwards.

In this penguin yoga pose variation the back on one hand is against the waist with elbow bend and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. This is acts rougthly as an internal rotation shoulder stretch.In this penguin yoga pose variation the back on one hand is against the waist with elbow bend and pointing forwards. Use the other hand to pull the elbow inwards. This is acts rougthly as an internal rotation shoulder stretch.

In this arm and shoulder stretch the arm being stretched is rotated inwards.

Penguin Dual Arm Stretch

While sitting (or possibly squatting) place the backs of both hands against the sides of the waist. Spread the shoulder blades and move the elbows towards each other using the muscle power of the arms.

In penguin shouler stretch place the back of the hands against the sides of the waist with elbows bent and pointing forwards. One option is to use the strength of the arms to move the elbows inwards towards each other. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.In penguin shouler stretch place the back of the hands against the sides of the waist with elbows bent and pointing forwards. One option is to place the knees outside the elbows and use the legs to push the elbows towards each other. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

To increase this shoulder stretch widen the knees and place the elbows inside the knees. Then use the legs to stretch the shoulders by slowly squeezing the knees inwards.

As you deepen the stretch you can move your shoulders forwards and inwards. To resist the stretch press the elbows outwards. (So that you still stretch the shoulders, make the knees stronger than the arms.)

Pull Back

This shoulder stretch can be nice to way to decompress the shoulders after doing penguin (the previous shoulder stretch.)

One option for stretching between the shoulder blades is to sit with feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Cross the arms and grab the opposite foot with both arms. Pull the ribcage back, away from the feet to stretch the shoulders. Move torso up or down to vary the stretch. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.One option for stretching between the shoulder blades is to sit with feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent. Cross the arms and grab the opposite foot with both arms. Pull the ribcage back, away from the feet to stretch the shoulders. Move torso up or down to vary the stretch. You can also do this stretch one arm at a time by letting go of one foot. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

Sit with knees bent and grab the outer edge of both feet with the opposite hand.

Pull your ribcage backwards, away from your feet to stretch the back of your shoulders. Try sitting up taller or hunching your back to vary the stretch.

Then switch your arms and repeat.

You can also do this pose one arm at a time either grabbing the opposite foot or the same side foot.

Gravity Assisted Shoulder Stretches

The following set of shoulder stretches are gravity assisted. You can focus on relaxing or on resisting the stretch.

Cross Chest Shoulder Stretch/Half Dragonfly

In this shoulder stretch focus on relaxing both sides of your body downwards. The arm that crosses the chest is the arm being stretched.

dragonfly arm stretch, stretch for the back of the shoulderdragonfly arm stretch, stretch for the back of the shoulder

While laying on your belly lift one side of the body and reach the opposite arm across your chest. The other arm can reach back beside you. To stretch the shoulder of the arm that is across your chest let the opposite side of the body sink down to the floor.

Let the weight of your shoulder, chest, pelvis and leg all sink down into the floor. (If the left arm is being stretched then focus on letting the right side of your body sink down.) Focus on relaxing.

You could focus on allowing the shoulder blade to move away from your spine. You can also experiment with moving the shoulder slightly forwards (towards the head) or rearwards (towards the ribcage and pelvis.)

Grabbing the Hands Behind the Back

A variation of the above arm stretch is to grab the hands behind the back.

dragonfly arm stretch, stretch for the back of the shoulder, hands clasped behind back

With your left arm across your throat bend the elbow and reach the hand over the shoulder. Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand up your back.

Try to clasp your hands together. If you can't then hold on to a belt with both hands.

External Rotation Arm Stretch

Andrey Lappa always used to call this "lotus for the arm" since the elbow is bent and the upper arm is externally rotated.

lotus for the arm shoulder stretch

  • Reach one arm across the chest while laying prone.
  • Bend the elbow so that the elbow points towards the opposite side of the body.
  • Rest the chin in the palm of the hand and use the weight of the head to press the forearm and back of the hand down towards the floor.
  • Allow the upper arm to rotate externally as you do so.

Dragonfly Shoulder Stretch for the Back of the Arms

Full dragonfly stretches both shoulders at the same time. In a prone position cross the arms beneath the shoulders with both arms straight. One arm will have to be in front of the other. Work at wiggling the hands away from each other. To add weight lift your ribs off of the flor, then your pelvis, and then your knees.

Move your body slightly forwards (or rearwards) so that your shoulders are more or less directly over your arms.

Rest and then repeat with the other arm in front.

Benittasana Arm Stretch

I learned a variation of this arm stretch from Jim Bennitt and so sometimes I refer to it as Bennittasana.

(In the original version you grab the top foot behind the back.)

bennittasana arm stretch for the pectoralis major.

From a prone (belly down) position reach the left arm to the side with elbow bent at 90 degrees. Have the elbow in line with the shoulder and keep the elbow, palm and shoulder on the floor. Slowly roll the right side of the body off of the floor. As you do so scissor the legs apart reaching the top leg backwards and the bottom leg forwards.

Keep the top leg off of the floor so that you can use the weight of the leg to help you go deeper into the stretch.

Press the opposite hand into the floor infront of the chest.

For extra leverage you can press the outside of the bottom thigh into the floor.

You may find it helps to allow the shoulder of the arm being stretched to lift a little. You can also lift the head off of the floor and work at lengthening both sides of the neck.

Try moving the elbow slightly forwards or backwards (towards your feet) to change the stretch.

Beginners Option/Modification

The easy version of Bennittasana is to do it standing and against a wall.

yoga poses, arm stretches, yoga stretches, yoga postures, bennitasana, standing version shoulder stretch

Keep your shoulder and elbow against the wall and if you right arm is being stretched, use your legs to roll the left side of your torso away from the wall.

Lappasana Shoulder Stretch

I call this shoulder stretch "Lappasana" simply because it is the pose most commonly associated with Andrey Lappa. It works on the front of the shoulder and arm, perhaps even stretching the biceps.

For the gravity assisted version of this arm stretch, lie belly down and reach your right arm to the right.

lappasana arm stretching exercise, stretching front of shouler, gravity assisted stretch, yoga poseslappasana arm stretch, stretching front of shouler, gravity assisted stretch, yoga poses
  • Roll the left side of your body off of the floor.
  • Keep your palm facing down and your arm at about 90 degrees to your body (upper left).
  • When you are ready, bend your knees. Keep your feet on the floor as you point the knees upwards.
  • Sink the left buttock towards the floor.

An easier version is to do this stretch first with the palm facing upwards.

To vary the stretch you can grab the hands behind the back keeping the bottom palm facing outwards.

To add weight to the stretch you can put your legs in the double pigeon foot position.

If the right arm is being stretched then have the right leg on the bottom.

lappasana arm stretch, stretching front of shouler, gravity assisted stretch, yoga poses, shoulder stretch with legs in double pigeon

Relaxing Afterwards

resting pose, chin on hands, legs spread wide.

Generally after this shoulder stretch I like to relax for a few moments with my chin on my hands. This was something Andrey had us do to feel the effects of the pose. The sensations can be quite pleasant.

Lappasana Arm Stretch Using the Wall

An option for lapasana is to do it while standing and using a wall.

yoga poses, arm stretches, yoga stretching exercise, yoga postures, lappasana, modified shoulder stretch (standing)

Keep your shoulder against the wall, use your legs to help rotate your body and stretch the shoulder.

Puppy Dog Shoulder Stretch

Puppy dog can be done with the arms in a push up position first and then with the arms straight ahead second.

In both versions use your spinal erectors to bend your spine backwards.

Also use the legs to pull the hips rearwards to help lengthen and decompress the spine and shoulders.

backbending yoga poses, puppy dog yoga pose, push up style puppy dog yoga stretcharm stretch, backbending yoga poses, puppy dog yoga pose, puppy dog yoga stretch

Puppy Dog Junior: Puppy Dog Without the Arms

To focus on backbending the spine and stretching the front of the ribcage and neck you can do puppy dog chest stretch with the arms in a "push-up" like position.

Starting from cat pose (with your hips ahead of your knees) lower your chest to the floor like you are doing push up.

Move your hips far enough forwards that you can touch your chest to the floor.

From there work at moving your chest and pelvis backwards so that your chest moves closer to your knees and your hips move towards being directly over the knees.

Or you could leave your chest in place and move your knees forwards, closer to your chest.

backbending yoga poses, puppy dog yoga pose, push up style puppy dog yoga stretch

From this position you could then sweep your arms forwards while keeping the chest on the floor.

You could also slowly lower into the "arms ahead" version of puppy dog by starting in cat pose with the hands on the floor ahead of the shoulders. Push the ribcage back like you are doing downward facing dog. Slowly lower the chest to the floor.

If you can't get your chest to the floor start with your pelvis forwards, ahead of your knees.

Spiderman Arm Stretch

A pose that is similiar to the puppy dog arm stretch, is the spiderman shoulder stretching exercise.

It can be done while kneeling in front of a wall or from a laying down position in front of a wall.

The laying down version is a little bit more intense.

spiderman yoga pose kneelingspiderman arm stretching exercise

Spiderman Arm Stretch While Kneeling

Kneel in front of a wall with your head touching the wall and your butt on your heels. Shuffle your knees towards the wall or away from it so that your head touches the wall while your butt is on your heels.

spiderman yoga pose kneeling prep

From here, sit up and reach your arms up the wall as high as you can (below left). You can lift your butt. Try to position your hands shoulder width apart or narrower.

spiderman yoga pose kneeling prep 2spiderman yoga pose kneeling

With your hands on the wall, allow your ribcage to slowly drop down (above right).

Breathe into your ribcage. As you inhale feel your ribs expanding. As you exhale, relax.

While it can feel natural to look down, I find this shoulder stretch is a lot more comfortable if I look up.

If you are really tight in the shoulders and this is really uncomfortable, try lifting your ribcage up each time you inhale and slowly relax downwards as you exhale.

Sit up and rest for a few moments after doing the pose. Then if you like repeat the shoulder stretch stretch but with your knees closer to the wall.

With knees closer to the wall you may find that this stretch opens up the front of your ribcage turning this shoulder stretch into a ribcage or chest stretch.

You can use the kneeling version as a warm up for the prone version.

Prone Spideman Shoulder Stretch

For the prone version lay down with the top of your head against the wall. From there prop yourself up on one elbow and reach the other hand up (shown below).

spiderman yoga pose prepgetting into spiderman arm stretch

Press that hand into the wall so that you can then lift and reach the other hand up.

With both hands on the wall keep pressing both hands into the wall to resist the stretch. Then slowly relax your arms to let your chest sink down.

spiderman arm stretch

You may be able to make the pose more comfortable (bearable) by pressing your hands into the wall as you inhale and then relaxing as you exhale.

Do both actions slowly and smoothly, in time with your breath.

Again my recommendation is to look up towards your hands when holding the pose, as if reaching towards your hands with your eyes.

As with the kneeling version, you can repeat the pose after a rest but with your body closer to the wall.

spiderman yoga pose closer to the wall prepspiderman arm stretching pose closer to the wall

Resting Afterwards

You may find that it feels really nice to just rest with your chin on your hands after exiting either version of the above shoulder stretch.

resting pose, chin on hands, legs spread wide.

Rack Arm Stretch

When I first started learning the Rack Arm Stretch in Andrey Lappa's class he had us do it with our fingers interlaced. It was quite intense on the elbows.

Now I usually do it with my hands separated and I practice two options, one with palms turned down so that the arms are externally rotated. The other option is with palms turned up so that the arms internally rotated.

rack arm stretch, shoulder stretch with arms down and backrack arm stretch, shoulder stretch with arms down and back

In either case you can make this pose less intense on your elbows by pulling your chest forwards, away from your hands. And move deeper into the pose by pulling your hips further forwards gradually.

With the palms facing down option you could increase the external rotation of the arms by rolling the thumb side of the hand upwards slightly. With palms upwards and thumbs inwards, you can increase internal rotation by again rolling the thumb side of each hand upwards.

Note that with your palms up you may find it more comfortable (and perhaps more natural) to bend your ribcage forwards and sink your chest.

Moving Your Hips Further Forwards

To move your hips forwards you can either wiggle them forwards (which is great when you are near your limits). Or you use your legs to pick your pelvis up and pull it forwards. Once your pelvis is in place you can keep your knees bent (shown below) or straighten them.

rack arm stretch, shoulder stretch with arms down and back

To get out of rack you can either pull your your hands forwards by lifting your chest or you can lift your legs and then use them to kick yourself back upright (shown below).

You may find it helpful to practice getting out while the pose is still easy (i.e. while your hips are still close to your hands.)

yoga poses, arm stretches, yoga stretches, yoga postures, rack, a stretch for the shoulders, exiting action for rack pose

A nice way to counterpose rack is with the pull back stretch for the back of the shoulders.

For a complete guide to improving shoulder awareness check out my ebook FAT Shoulders (available as a PDF, and in Mobi and Epub formats).

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