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.)
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
Yoga Anatomy Notes, using upper and middle trapezius to avoid shoulder impingement.
Standing hamstring stretches differ from seated stretches. If flexibility is limited start with standing poses, it is easier to use gravity to assist the stretch.
Three variations of crow pose and tips for balancing in this arm balancing yoga pose.
Yoga twists: passive and assisted twists for the ribcage, thoracic spine and lumbar spine. Twists can be made slightly easier if you understand some basic anatomy of the spine. You can then apply this understanding to both seated and standing twists and even prone twists as well as twisting positions that include a bind.
The three yoga bandhas can affect the si joint, hip stability, spine, psoas, breath and posture.
Basic yoga poses: standing, sitting, arm balances, binds, twists, inversions, back bending, front bends.
Kneeling and prone yoga poses index: kneeling, semi-kneeling, kneeling reclined and belly down poses.
The balance poses index: balancing on one leg, inverted and semi-inverted poses, arm balances, balancing cat pose and side plank.
Balancing one one foot symmetric/asymmetric forward facing and lateral standing yoga poses index.
Reclining and seated yoga poses index: cross legged, half-hero, lotus, marichyasana, foot behind the head,
Yoga Poses for abs involve either/or stabilizing and mobilizing the midsection, which can mean fixing the ribcage relative to the pelvis or moving it relative to the pelvis.
If you are having a hard time breathing then one possible solution is to focus on moving your spine and ribcage and not focus at all on your breath. Instead make your movements smooth and slow so that your breathing becomes smooth and slow.
Learn to control and differentiate the muscles of the pelvic diaphragm, including the pc muscle. These muscles can have an affect on the Sacroiliac and hip joint and may be useful in back bending yoga postures.
Until Mar 30, Get my newest ebook FAT Shoulder Stretches (And Shoulder Awareness Exercises) for $2.00. Available in PDF, Mobi and EPub formats.
In the following set of shoulder stretching exercises, gravity is used to drive the stretch. This can make it easier to relax and focus on feeling your shoulders (and relaxing them) so that you get a more effective stretch.
New in yoga notes, stretching the biceps. This is for people who have difficulty straightening the elbows because of tight biceps.
This is the first yoga routine I've done in a video format. The class is about an hour long and includes exercises and poses for increasing pressure awareness, stability and mobility.
This is a step-by-step introduction to bound headstand. It shows how to set up neck and shoulders and how to get comfortable being upside down in the pose otherwise known as sirsasana by using a wall to start with.
Body awareness tips: Yoga can be a balance between expansion and contraction and the control of tension and relaxation for optimum sensing and responding so that we can find and maintain ideal relationships within our body and between ourselves and the world around us.
Here's a new video on bending forwards while standing on one leg. I talk about how to activate the obturator internus while doing this pose and how this may affect forward bending in other standing poses.
My own interest in activating this muscle is to prevent hip pain and to help my hip muscles (and leg muscles) activate effectively. It may actually help the fibers of the gluteus maximus that connect to the sacrotuberous ligamentto activate by adding tension to that ligament.