Muscle Assisted Shoulder Stretches,
Stretches for the Arms (and Shoulders) That Can Be Used while Standing or Seated

muscle assisted shoulder stretches: tricep stretch, one arm over the head, both arms over the head, cow face yoga position, grab an elbow behind the back, arm to the side behind the back, both arms back, reverse prayer yoga arm postion, stretch for the back of the shoulder, external rotation shoulder stretch, internal rotation shoulder stretch, eagle yoga position for the arms.

The following shoulder stretches use muscle power or leverage and can be done while standing or sitting.

Some of these stretches can also be used as preparations for binding yoga poses. (With some imagination they can also be used as substitutes for binding poses.)

Open (and Stabilize) Your Ribcage

Since the ribcage forms the foundation for the shoulders, when doing any of these stretches, make the spaces between your ribs feel open.

If the arms are rearwards open the front ribs. If the arms are forwards you may find it helps to open the back of the ribcage.

In either make make your ribcage feel open and make your neck feel long.

Reaching the Arms Up

A very simple shoulder 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 lengthen and slowly relax the stretch repeatedly.

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

Reaching the Arms Down and Back

The compliment or counterpose to the above stretch is to reach the arms back and down. Initially focus on doing the stretch in the following steps. With hands clasped,

  • move the shoulders back,
  • straighten the arms,
  • use the shoulders as if pulling the arms apart.
  • Relax and re interlace with opposite pinky on top.
  • Repeat.
In this arms behind the back stretch the fingers are interlaced with palms touching. The shoulder blaes are moving towards each other (retracting and the elbows are straigh. Neck is long, chest lifted and the arms are slowly moving upwards (against gravity.) This is the same arm position used in the yoga pose Prasaritta Padottanasana C. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses

If you can't claps your hands, then grab onto a towel or strap or even the edges of a yoga mat. Then work at gradually bringing your hands closer.

Repeat the above steps a few times and then add an arm lift. Lengthen the arms, pull the arms outwards (as if trying to separate the arms) then pull the arms up. Relax, switch the interlock and repeat.

You can also hold the stretch for a few breaths and then repeat it using the opposite interlock of the hands.

Stretching the Sides of the Shoulders with the Arms Down

In this shoulder stretch grab one forearm behind the back. Pull the arm outwards to stretch the shoulder of the grabbing arm. The other arm is straight. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.In this shoulder stretch grab a wrist behind the back and pull the grabbed arm inwards. The elbow of the arm being pulled is straight. This stretches the outer shoulder with the arm down. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

This shoulder stretch can be used as a preparation for binding side angle pose.

Reach one arm straight down and grab it behind the back with the other hand.

First pull the straight arm outwards. Use the straight arm to stretch the shoulder of the bent arm.

When you are ready reverse the stretch. Pull the bent arm outwards and use the bent arm to stretch the shoulder of the straight arm.

Experiment with making both arms strong.

  • To move towards the straight arm side make the straight arm stronger.
  • To move towards the bent arm side make the bent arm stronger.

Grabbing One Elbow Behind the Back

With both elbows bent, stretch the shoulders by grabbing the elbows behind the back and pulling he elbows inwards, towards each other. This can be  substitute for Prayer behind the back position. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

After the above set of shoulder stretches you can then bend both elbows behind the back. Try to grab one elbow with the other hand and pull the elbow inwards. (Above right.)

This can be used as a preparation stretch for the lower arm in cow face yoga pose.

It may also help if you can't grab your hands behind your back in the prasaritta padottanasana c position.

Stretching the Side of the Shoulders with the Arms Up

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.)

The next two arm positions can be used to prepare for compass pose. They are also the compliment to the above stretch.

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

Hold for a few breaths and then do the reverse. Pull the bent arm to the side so that you use the bent arm to stretch the muscles of the straight arm.

You may find it helpful to keep your neck long in this and any other arm stretch where the arm is over the head.

Work at reaching both shoulders upwards. And as for the previous pose, experiment with pulling outwards with both arms.

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.

A possible progression after doing both sides of the above stretch is the elbow-upwards triceps stretch (shown above).

To give yourself room to stretch your shoulder in this position, reach the shoulder (and elbow) upwards and then pull the arm inwards.

This can be used as a preparation for the upper arm in cow face yoga pose below.

To strengthen and stretch, resist the hand by pulling the elbow outwards.

Cow Face Shoulder Stretch

In Cow Face Yoga Arm position one arm reaches up and the other down with both elbows bent. Clasp the hands behind the back. Keep your neck long and chest open. This stretches both arms at the same time.

In cow face shoulder stretch the hands are clasped behind the back with one arm up and the other arm down. (See cow face for details on working towards this position.)

Binding Preparation For Bound Side Angle Pose

To prepare for binding in side angle pose, reach one hand behind your back and to the side of the opposite waste. Use the other hand to pull it forwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.To prepare for binding in side angle pose, reach one hand behind your back and to the side of the opposite waste. Use the other hand to pull it forwards. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

In some versions of side angle yoga pose you reach a hand behind the back to grab the inner thigh of the bent leg. A way to prepare for this position is to place the fingers of one hand in the cupped palm of the other hand behind the back. Then draw both hands to the side of the waist.

If the fingers of the left hand are cupping the palm of the right hand then pull towards the right waist (below right). Once your hands pass the side of your waist then focus on pulling the hands forwards.

You could also use this as an option or preparation for the previous shoulder stretch.

If you can't grab your hands you can always try holding a towel or belt between your hands. (Start with the towel or belt in the upper hand so that it is easier for the lower arm to grab it.)

Once you can clasp your hands try to alternately (and slowly) pull your arms apart and then relax. Focusing on one arm at a time, with arms strong try moving your upper elbow inwards and outwards. I find that moving it inwards makes this more of a triceps stretch. Focusing on the bottom arm try to move the shoulder backwards and the elbow inwards.

Reverse Prayer

In the reverse prayer yoga arm position the palms are together behind the back with finger tips pointing upwards. The elbows pull backwards and the hands can reach upwards towards the head. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

In the Reverse Prayer shoulder try to bring the hands together behind the back (see Reverse Prayer for options for working towards this position.)

Push the elbows back and push the palms against each other. You can also work at pushing your palms higher up the back. (If you have long hair you can try grabbing your hair with your finger tips.)

Stretching the Back of the Shoulders

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.

In most of the previous shoulder stretches the front of the shoulder (or sides) where stretched. In the following variations you stretch the back of the shoulders.

With the elbow of one arm straight, reach that arm straight ahead and grab it with the other arm. Then pull the straight arm to the side to stretch the back of the bent arm (below).

You can vary this shoulder stretch by slightly raising or lowering the straight arm. A similar stretch is to reach the straight arm across the throat and then pull it back using the other arm. (Not shown.)

A variation of this shoulder stretch is to reach the straight arm up the back. (Bend the elbow to reach it up the back.) The other arm still reaches across the throat. Try to grab the hands behind the shoulder of the lower arm.

This then is similar to the half dragonfly "clasped" shoulder stretch. You may find that doing this stretch while standing or sitting is easier than while laying down.

Eagle Arms

In the Eagle Yoga Arm Position both elbows are bent. One elbow is crossed over the other with the palms hooked against each other. In this picture the forearms are vertical. Neil Keleher. Sensational Yoga Poses.

In eagle arms, cross the arms in front of the body and hook the fingers of the lower arm into the palm of the upper arm. (For more details read eagle arm position).

In the eagle arm position once your arms are crossed you can tilt your arms to the upper arm side so that you use the lower arm to stretch the upper arm in external rotation.

Another option is to reach the elbows up as far as possible. Yet another option that tenses the muscles that you are stretching is to try pull the hands and elbows away from each other. This can be tiring and so you can practice slowly activating while inhaling and slowly relaxing while exhaling.

Penguin Pose Variation

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.

Half penguin shoulder stretch can be used as a counter-pose or compliment to eagle arms. In eagle arms you stretch the shoulders with the forearms upwards. In standing penguin the forearm points down. Also in this pose, the effect is to internally rotate the arm where in eagle you externally rotate them to clasp the hands.

To do this arm stretch brace the back of your hand or wrist against the side of your ribcage and then pull the elbow inwards with your other hand. If you are using the warrior 1 leg position or you are kneeling you could also place the wrist against the outside of your knee.

Work to spread (protract) your shoulder blade when doing this stretch (below right).

Lotus Arm Standing Version

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.

This next shoulder stretch might be useful as a preparation for eagle arms.

It's similar to penguin but instead you place the blade of the hand against your chin or cheekbone (or where ever you can find a comfortable place on your face.)

Keep your head and neck stable and use your other hand to pull the elbow inwards (shown below).

Penguin Pose

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.

In penguin you can either use arm strength to move your elbows together (first picture below) or you can place your arms inside your knees and use your legs to squeeze your elbows together (second picture).

As you deepen the stretch you can move your shoulders forwards and inwards. You may find that this gives your arms more room to move inwards at the elbows.

Try resisting the knees with the arms as you press your knees inwards. So that you still stretch the shoulders, make the knees stronger than the arms.

Pull Back

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.

Another shoulder stretch that can be used to stretch the back of the shoulders the space between them is "pull back" pose.

Grabbing your feet with crossed arms, pull your ribcage away from your feet to stretch the back of your shoulders. Then switch your arms and repeat.

Try sitting up taller or hunching your back to vary the stretch.

You can also do this pose one arm at a time either grabbing the opposite foot (below right) or the same side foot (not shown). This can be a nice way to decompress after penguin.

FAT Shoulders

For more detailed information on shoulder stretches, check out FAT Shoulders. (FAT stands for Functional Anatomic Tensegrity). It's available in PDF, Mobi (for Kindle) and Epub formats.

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