Shoulder Opening and Stretches to Improve Range of Motion and Posture


As a person who has experienced a shoulder injury in a car accident back in 2008, I can honestly say that yoga has improved and rehabilitated my left shoulder. Slowly, but surely over the years, my left shoulder has become more flexible, more open without the constant rounding, and more pain-free. Try some of these shoulder poses to improve your shoulders and improve your Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Baddha Parsvakonasana (Bound Side Angle, and Setu Bandha Savangasana (Bridge Pose).

Tight shoulders can be caused by stress, injury, or poor posture. Strengthening and stretching can help increase circulation, range of motion, flexibility, and reduce stress. For shoulder relief, practice these yoga stretches two to three times a week. Modify by using a yoga strap, towel, or robe belt between the hands. Use your inhalation to lengthen and your exhalation to move more deeply into the pose. Remember "pain" is your "stop sign!" Check in with your breath to make sure you are not over-efforting and headed towards pain or too much of a challenge.

Lateral Flexion
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Inhale and stretch your arms out to the sides and then over your head with your palms facing each other. Exhale as you take hold of your left wrist with your right hand. With an inhalation, stretch the fingers of your left hand to the ceiling. Exhale as you gently stretch to the right, drawing out your left arm and wrist with the right hand, and move your hips to the left simultaneously. Keep your head and left arm in alignment with the torso. Don't drop your left arm in front of your face. Feel this stretch on the entire left side of your body, from your hips to your fingertips. Keep your feet solidly planted on the floor by pressing firmly down with your outer left heel. Continue to breathe softly as you stretch to the right, particularly noticing the deep stretch in the left rib cage as the breath enters your left lung. Inhale as you come back to center. Exhale and switch hands. Holding your right wrist with your left arm, inhale as you reach up through the fingers of your right hand. Exhale as you stretch to the left. Continue to breathe as you stretch to the left side. Inhale and return to the center. Repeat this sequence on each side.

Shoulder Rolls
Movement is one of the best things you can do for your back if you've been sitting in the same position for awhile. This particular movement helps relieve tension in the upper back and shoulders where the trapezius muscle is located.
Sitting upright, inhale as you lift your right shoulder to your ear. Exhale as you slowly roll your shoulder around and back, dropping it away from your ear. Continue these shoulder rolls three more times, alternating right and left.
Now, inhale as you lift both shoulders up to the ears. Exhale as you release them. Repeat five times and then relax your shoulders.

Neck Stretch
This stretch is particularly good for a stiff or compressed neck. You can really feel how it lengthens and stretches the neck, creating space between each of the vertebrae in the cervical spine.
Sit upright without letting your back touch the back of the chair. Align your head directly over your spine and feel the crown of your head lifting. You may want to hold on to the side of your chair seat with your left hand. Breathe in, and on the exhalation, drop your right ear toward your right shoulder without lifting your right shoulder or turning your head. Take several breaths in and out, feeling the stretch on the left side of your neck. Now, drop your chin to your chest and draw an imaginary necklace to the left shoulder on the exhale. Pause here, inhaling, and then move your chin back to the center of your collarbone. Inhale again. On the exhalation, move your chin to right shoulder tracing the imaginary circle. Pause and return to center as you exhale.

Open Chest Stretch
This pose opens the chest, decreasing rounded shoulders and releasing tightness in the middle back. In addition, it helps decrease kyphosis, extreme forward curvature of the thoracic spine.
Sit near the edge of a chair and interlace your fingers behind you, with your palms facing your back. Leaning slightly forward, lift your arms and rest them on the back of the chair. Inhale and lift your chest. Exhale and relax your shoulders away from your ears. If your hands do not reach the top of the chair, clasp the sides of the chair back and pull your chest forward, relaxing your shoulders and opening your upper chest. Hold for 10 to 15 breaths, feeling lightness in your heart. With an exhalation, slowly release your hands and bring them down by your sides.

Chair Twist
Twists are the antidote to sitting for long periods of time. After twisting, you will feel the release of all the muscles in your back (particularly in the middle back) that have been locked into position from sitting a long time.
Sit toward the front of a chair, then swivel your thighs toward the right side of the chair so you are sitting diagonally on the seat. If you have an arm rest on the side of the chair, bring your thighs as close to it as possible. Inhale and lift your right arm up to the ceiling. With an exhalation, move your arm to the back of the chair on the opposite side, taking hold of the chair back. Bring the left hand to the right knee or chair handle. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and twist to the right, pressing your right hand against the back of the chair to deepen the twist. Visualize the shoulder blades dropping down as if they were hanging from weights. Breathe into your rib cage. Consciously relax the muscles in your back and gently twist a little farther. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 breaths. Return to your center with an exhalation and repeat on the opposite side.

Back and Shoulder Release
Part One: Sit on the edge of a chair and place your feet about two and a half feet apart, parallel to each other. Lean forward and place your forearms on your inner thighs. Press your inner thighs out with your forearms. Breathe deeply in and out, feeling the stretch in your inner thighs.
Part Two: Make sure your knees are directly over your heels and your feet are parallel to each other. Slowly stretch your arms down towards the floor, resting your ribs on your thighs and your armpits towards your knees. Cross your arms, placing your hands at the opposite elbows. Continue to breathe deeply.
Part Three: For a deeper stretch of the back, stretch your arms forward toward your desk or the floor, reaching through the fingertips and feeling your spine lengthening. Round your back and slowly roll up, returning to a sitting position.
Lengthening your right arm overhead, place your right hand on the left side of your head to gently pull your neck away from your shoulders. At the same time, you can hold firmly onto the chair with your left hand to draw your left shoulder away from your neck.
Visualize your neck growing longer and the muscles along your vertebrae relaxing. Hold the pose for at least five more breaths, then release your left hand from the chair and gently massage your neck and shoulders with your left hand. Slowly lift the head and switch sides to repeat the sequence.

Cow Face Pose
From a comfortable standing or seated position, stretch your arms out shoulder height in a T-shape. Rotate your right hand to face behind you, so that you feel your shoulder joint rotating forward. Reach your right hand behind you, bending at the elbow and finding the middle of your shoulder blades with your palm facing away from you. Now reach your left arm overhead, rotating the palm to face behind you. Bend at your elbow and clasp your right fingertips or hand. If you cannot reach your hand, use a towel or strap so both hands have something to clasp. Release and switch sides.

Clock Stretch at the Wall
Standing next to a doorway or wall with one side, bring the inner arm straight overhead. Imagine a clock-face as you inhale to lengthen through your side body and exhale move your arm (palm away from you towards the wall) to one o'clock (or eleven, depending what side you are on), two o'clock (or ten), and three o'clock (or nine). Your arm should be parallel to the floor at this point. If it feels comfortable to your neck, look towards the outstretched arm and hand to check that it is level with the floor. Your hips are straight forward. Hold each stretch for five breaths. Now, move your arm back up towards twelve o'clock, one breath per movement.

Eagle Pose
From a comfortable standing or seated position, hold your arms out straight in front of you with your palms facing down. Cross your right arm over your left. Bend both elbows so your fingertips point up and then try to cross your forearms and palms. Lift your elbows up to the height of your shoulders and press your forearms forward so your upper back rounds. Release and switch sides. If your shoulders are too tight to cross forearms and palms, grab for opposite shoulders instead.

Dolphin Pose
Starting on your hands and knees, place your elbows on the ground underneath your shoulders. Place your palms together. Tuck your toes under, lifting your knees off the ground. Once your knees are up, begin to push your chest toward your thighs. If your hamstrings are on the tight side, bend your knees to take some of the stretch away from your legs and avoid rounding your back. Try not to let your shoulders push past your elbows. Let your head relax down between your biceps.

Backward Reach
From a standing position with your feet shoulder distance, interlace your fingers at your low back. Stretch your knuckles down toward the floor, straightening your arms, and then begin to lift your hands away from your lower back. If it is hard to interlace your fingers, grab a strap or towel with both hands, keeping your hands shoulder distance. If you would like to deepen the stretch, close your palms together with your fingers interlaced and fold forward over your legs.
It will take time, as with any muscle group, for your shoulders to open up and respond to the stretch. Consider holding each stretch for 30 seconds so your muscle tissues can lengthen safely. Repeat each stretch three to four times, and practice them two to three times a week.

Thanks to Mayo Clinic for some of these ideas.

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