Sequence : Stretch the Shoulders and the Chest

Written by | Anatomy, Yoga

The shoulders are one of the most common areas of the body to hold stress. Many of us who sit at desks all day or spend lots of hours behind the wheel commuting know that the shoulders become tense and need a special care.

Do you recognize the forward movement in your body throughout your daily life? Our ENTIRE LIFE is one of forward movement. Let’s take a moment to think how we maneuver through everyday tasks, and become more aware of our body’s shape. Most of us drive a vehicle, which equals a rounding of the shoulders, closing off of the chest, and a general forward motion of the body. Most of us wash dishes, do laundry, cook our meals and eat our meals. What do your shoulders look like, how closed off is your chest in these moments? Most of us use a smartphone, a computer, or a tablet to communicate or work. What shape is your body mimicking in these moments? And when we sleep. Most of us don’t sleep directly on our backs, face up, shoulders rolling back and chest spreading + opening. Most of us roll to our sides, sleep on our bellies, or in-between. We want to encourage the shoulders to open and soften, while the chest expands and stretches.
And what about lifting your kids, or repetitive movements ? An intense exercise routine can ceven ause major tightness in the shoulders. Mentally, anger, resistance, stress, guilt or shame can create tension in the shoulders. Needless to say, your shoulders carry a great deal of weight.

Shoulder opening yoga poses can benefit all people, especially those with chronic back and neck problems. Poor posture while sitting at a desk or driving a car causes negative physical side effects. Shortened muscles are weaker, causing additional discomfort and pain.
Yoga can definitely help open up all of these joints and muscles, strengthen, stretch, and align the body, reducing chronic muscle pain and joint discomfort. Of course, improving posture while seated, as well as standing, will help maintain a healthy back, neck, and shoulders.
A focused series of yoga poses that target the shoulders can offer significant improvements if this area is a chronically painful area. The following yoga poses increase flexibility and range of motion, decrease stress, and allow blood, oxygen and energy to flow into the chest, neck, back and shoulders.

1st part——-WARM UP—-

Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This pose is a great passive relief for many areas of the upper body. By folding over your legs and reaching your arms to the end of your mat, you are letting the shoulders fall open and relax. Be sure that your shoulders aren’t creeping up towards your ears, but rather encourage them to move down your back. Hold this pose for two or three minute to allow the stretch to move deep into your muscles.

Puppy Pose (uttana shishosana)
Do this posture after warming up the body or do it at 50% if the body is not warm yet
Choose forehead to floor/block or chin to the floor (this will deepen the posture)
Take childs pose if the posture is too intense
Do focus on keeping hips over knees
Start on your knees and slide your arms forward without mouving your legs. Keep your tail in the air, above your knees. Puppy Pose opens the shoulders, without placing any weight on them. Hold it for two or three minute.

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Among the long list of benefits of this pose is that it has shoulder-opening capabilities. Start with the Plank, line up shoulders over wrists; you can also line up the inner shoulders (where arm meets torso) with your index finger or middle finger, whichever is more comfortable. Your shoulders, hips, and knees are in one inclined line. Without moving your hands and feet, shift your hips back and up for Downward-Facing Dog. Spread your fingers and toes wide. Cultivate space in the chest and shoulders by plugging the arm bones into the shoulder sockets and draw the shoulder blades down the back toward the hips. Firm the muscles of the arms without hyperextending the elbows, and externally rotate the arms. You’ll feel the triceps wrap around the bone and the elbows will hug toward each other to help straighten the arms. Hold it for five long breaths.

Reverse Table Top Pose, Half-Upward Plank Pose (Ardha Purvottanasana)
Sitting with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your knees, feet on the ground. Leave some space between your hips and the feet. Place your hands behind you, shoulder-width apart, fingers pointing towards you, and lean back. With an inhale, lift your hips. Straighten your arms, and check that your knees are at a 90 degree angle and thighs and torso are parallel to the floor. Your wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders. Move your shoulder blades close to each other, and open the chest. You can keep your neck neutral, or gently drop the head if this feels comfortable. Hold it for five long breaths.

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Bridge effectively releases tension in shoulders and offers fast relief. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, directly under your knees and close to your buttocks. Place your arms flat on the floor and slowly lift your pelvis off the ground, bringing your spine with it. Then for additional release, draw your shoulderblades down your back as you clasp your hands together under your body, straightening the arms and pressing them into the mat. Roll your shoulders toward each other under your back and keep space between your chin and your chest. Only your upper shoulder blades should still have contact with the ground. Your hips and pelvis are in alignment, and neck is relaxed. Do not turn your neck in Bridge Pose. Hold it for five long breaths.

Cow Face Pose (Gomukasana)
Come to a seated position with both legs extended forward. Slide your left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Cross your right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left. Now bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Sit evenly on the sitting bones.
As you inhale, reach the right arm up. Exhale, bend the elbow, and place your hand on your upper back. Inhale. Reach the left arm behind your back and reach up between the shoulder blades to interlock the hands, or you can use a towel to bridge the gap. Gaze forward, lengthen the torso, and draw your right elbow and shoulders down. Breathe steadily. Stay for five breaths and switch sides reversing the legs and arms. You can also take a cross-legged position.
Gomukasana Stretches the external shoulder rotators: subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor and posterior deltoid, and strengthens the back and shoulders: rhomboids and infraspinatus. Hold it for seven long breaths.

Reverse Prayer Pose (Parsva Anjali Mudra)
This one really opens up the chest. Sitting stretch your arms out to either side and reach them behind you. Allow your palms to find one another in a prayer position, fingertips pointing upward. Keep opening through your chest and drawing your shoulders back. Hold it for seven long breaths.

2nd part——-CORE——

Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Do this posture after warming up the body – strengthening + opening
Start with knees together + feet together
Always breathe here and recognize if you lose the breath (if so, back out and move slower)
Choose to do this posture at 30% or 110% – do what feels good here, focus on the stretch and strength, not the shape
Bow Pose is a great stretch. Lie on the floor on your stomach with your head resting comfortably on the ground. Bend your knees and bring your feet up above your knees, then reach your hands around to grasp your ankles. Then extend your feet upwards which lift the torso brings your shoulders up as well. Hold it for one long breath if possible and release, lift again three times. Then lift and try to stay for three breaths.

Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Modify by doing bridge pose or place a block between your thighs for added alignment + engagement
Just like bow pose, always breathe here, notice if you lose the breath and choose to back out
This pose opens the pectoral muscles, externally rotates the shoulders, and releases tension from between the shoulder blades.
Starting on your back, bring your feet in close to your bottom, and bend your arms, placing your hands on either side of your head, with palms flat and fingers towards your feet. Slowly lift your hips off the floor, and then lift your head and neck. Look backwards, first bringing your head to the floor (no weight on the head), and then using your arms to push all of your weight onto your feet and hands. As you rise into the pose, straigthen your arms and legs. Hold it for one long breath (if possible) then release, lift again three times. Then lift and try to stay for three breaths.

3rd part—–CONCLUSION——-

Upward Plank Pose, fish pose (Purvottanasana)
First, it lengthens the front of your body, (referred to as the “east” side in yoga, since it would face the rising sun if you were doing Sun Salutations) from the toes to the head. It is a gradual backbend and one of the few poses that takes your arms into deep extension, a movement that is useful as preparation for Shoulderstand.
Come to the floor in a seated position with your legs extended forward, feet together. Place your hands several inches behind your hips with the palms on the floor and fingers point forward. As you inhale, press into your hands and feet to lift your body up. Press the feet down into the floor with your big toes and inner thighs pressing toward each other. Lift through the front of the body by pressing the hips and chest toward the sky. Slowly drop your head behind you. Hold it for three long breaths.
Purvottanasana stretches the chest, neck and shoulders flexors: pectoralis major, the anterior deltoids and biceps brachii, ans strengthens the back and shoulders: posterior deltoids and rhomboids.

Camel pose (Ustrasana)
Camel pose is a much more passive pose than Purvottanasana in the use of the back muscles.
Come up onto both knees, placing them hip width apart. Place the palms of the hands on the sacrum with the fingers pointed down. Inhale and press the knees down reaching the crown of the head up to lengthen the spine. Then press the hips forward, squeezing the buttocks and thighs and supporting your weight with the arms as you bend backwards. Carefully reach one hand down to the heel, then the other one. Lift the chest up and drop your head behind you if it is confortable. Breathe and hold for 3 to 6 breaths.

Then do the poses you feel to do, more active or more passive, and finaly relax for few minutes on your back and watch the feelings in your shoulders, neck, torso and back.

Last modified: October 30, 2018

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