I Should Go Do Yoga...Shoulders
The second in the ‘I should Go Do Yoga…’ series (first one here) is for tight shoulders!
Flexibility in the shoulders actually improves strength, and decreases the amount of load that your bones, ligaments and joints have to bear. If you lift weights, play golf, or are a forward in rugby, for example, having healthy shoulder flexibility will improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury. Going further than helping with sports performance, if you sit at a desk at work all day, or hunch over your smartphone, having a good shoulder stretch on a daily basis will release the tension built up from poor posture and stress!
As always, these stretches can be done from the comfort of your own home, while you’re watching TV, or just before you go to bed. If you really want to be a teacher's pet (and feel awesome at the same time) you can combine them with the hips and hamstrings stretches here for an all-round tension release!
Let’s get started!
TIP: when doing stretches the longer you hold the stretch the more beneficial. I have indicated to breathe in and out (through the nose!!) deeply 7 times for each of the poses, but if you can hold them longer then do so. PLEASE be mindful of the difference between a good stretch, and pain. If you feel a sharp pain at any time during any stretches then ease off, as over-stretching can lead to injury. Find your edge and stick with it, breathing deeply and evenly, but don't push too far - flexibility will take time, show yourself some love!
This warm up gets the blood flowing to the shoulder area and has the added benefit of improving the flexibility of the spine as well! On all fours, make sure your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders and knees below the hips. Feet parallel and in line with the knees. Inhale and at the same time drop your navel towards the floor, arching the back and opening the chest. Be mindful of the shoulders, ensure they are away from the ears and nice and relaxed.
On the exhale, round the back, pushing away from the floor evenly with the hands, tucking the tailbone and sucking the navel in. You should feel a nice stretch between the shoulder blades. Inhale and drop the navel again, coming to cat, exhale to cow. Repeat this 7-10 times, moving with the breath.
Uttana Shishosana (Puppy pose)
Come back to all fours and from here walk the hands out away from you. Keeping the hips directly above the knees, gently move the chest towards the floor. If you feel discomfort in the knees you can place a blanket underneath them to cushion them, and if your shoulders are super tight you can place your hands on two blocks/big books, or the edge of the sofa, to bring the floor up to you.
If it is accessible to you, try placing your chin on the floor. This opens up the front of the throat and strengthens the cervical extensor muscles along the back of the neck, but only keep light pressure on the chin (and back off if you feel any discomfort), and avoid this variation if you have neck injuries.
After 7 deep breaths, or longer if you can, come out of the pose gently and rest back in child’s pose to release the back.
Parsva Balasana (Eye of the Needle pose)
From child’s pose, come back up to all fours. Raise the right hand out to the side, away from the body, and then swing it under the left arm, resting the weight onto the outside of the upper arm and shoulder. To deepen the stretch, push away from the floor with your left hand.
Breathe deeply through the nose 7 times, or longer, before gently coming out of the stretch and changing over to the other side.
Gomukhasana (Cow face pose)
For this pose I recommend you grabbing a belt, or a tea towel to help you. In a kneeling or seated position (you can also do this standing, whichever you prefer) take the belt or towel in your right hand and raise the hand directly overhead. Bend at the elbow and reach as far down the centre of your back as you can, between the shoulder blades. Hold the left hand out in front of you, and turn the palm outwards, thumb facing down. Swing the hand all the way around the back and try to hold on to the belt or tea towel which is hanging down your back. If you can, you can join your hands together.
Keep your back straight and upright, and ensure your top elbow is not in front of your face.
Breathe deeply in this pose, it’s probably going to feel very intense, so breathe into it, and allow your shoulders to open up.
Very gently, release the pose and move over to the other side. TIP: if you’re right handed, you’re likely to find the other side more difficult, acknowledge where your body is, breathe into the pose and don’t try and force it!
Shoulder Stretch Against Floor or Wall
Come to standing or kneeling beside a wall. Reach your hand closest to the wall behind you, and rotate the palm so it's flat on the wall. Breathing slowly, move your side body closer to the wall to open up the front of the shoulder.
Once that feels comfortable, come to laying on your belly, with your arms out wide at shoulder level with palms facing down. Lift your left foot up, bend at the knee and place the foot down on the outside of the right leg, sole of the foot to the floor.
Your torso will come off the floor and will be facing to the left. For a deeper stretch, bring the left hand round the back and interlace the fingers with the right hand. Breathe deeply in the pose, and don’t force it, if you feel any pain you can lower your hands towards your bum to ease off.
After 7 deeps breaths or more, change to the other side.
Marichyasana C (Sage’s pose)
Come to seated with both legs extended out in front of you. Bend the right knee into the body, keeping the sole of the foot on the ground. Raise your right hand above your head and lower it down in front of you, inside the bent knee. Turn the palm outwards, thumb to the floor, before bending the elbow and bringing the hand round the bent knee, to the back. Now raise the left hand in front, turn the palm outwards, thumb down, and swing the arm round behind you, bending at the elbow to clasp hold of your right hand.
If your hands don’t reach, just keep them where they rest, or you can use the belt we used in Gomukhasana. Breathe deeply for 7 breaths or more, and then change sides.
Forward-fold with shoulder stretch
From a cross-legged, or kneeling position, reach your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. Bowing your head to the floor (you can rest your forehead on a block or book if you can’t reach the floor and it’s uncomfortable) raise your arms up to the sky and overhead.