Shoulder tension is a common issue I see in my clients. We sit with shoulders slumped forward as we type at our keyboard, as we drive, and as we scroll on our phones. We also carry overly heavy bags on our shoulders, most of the time just one shoulder, with a purse or cross body bag, or even using only one shoulder strap of a backpack.
All this creates stiff tense shoulders that never feel totally relaxed. Our range of motion is affected, and it shows up when we try to sleep on our sides at night.
Shoulder injuries are really common, too. The shoulder is the most unstable joint in the whole body, making it prone to over-extension or strains and sprains to the tendons and ligaments that support the joint.
Here is a yoga sequence to release tension, build strength and mobility all in the shoulders and arms. Regular practice of these poses will protect your shoulder and keep it feeling more relaxed and soft instead of tense and hardened.
(It is recommended that you do a short warm up before this sequence, like a couple of Sun Salutes.)
Downward Facing Dog + Dolphin Pose
Starting from table top (wrists under shoulders and knees under hips), curl the toes under, inhale and lift the hips up and back. Start with your knees bent, pressing though one heel then the other, walking out your dog. Get long through the sides of the body, hollowing out the armpits and the palms. Distribute your weight evenly throughout all ten fingers–the tips of the fingers and the base of each finger. Breathe here for a few breaths.
When it feels right, gently lower your elbows to the mat, coming into dolphin pose. Keep the hips reaching up. Stay here for a few breaths.
You can alternatively cycle between these two for an additional challenge, exhaling into dolphin and inhaling into down dog. Keep focus on shoulders to be aware of any strain this might create. Ease out of the pose and back into tabletop when you are ready.
Plank + Chaturanga
From tabletop pose, slide one foot back and then the other, to come into plank pose. Pressing into the hands to lift the back (it’s easy to allow the chest to sink, we want to avoid that). Hips are in line with the shoulders. Breathe in this pose for a few breaths, 3-5 or for one minute for a greater challenge. Then release to tabletop.
For chaturanga, or staff pose, begin in plank pose, reach the heart forward as you bend the elbows and bring the chest down in line with the elbows. Elbows stay close to the body. Hands are next to chest, not under shoulders. Stay here for a few breaths then gently come all the way down onto your belly.
Upward Facing Dog
As you lay on your belly, draw your fingers in line with your chest, elbows stay close to the body. Inhale, press into the tops of the feet and hands to lift your heart up, thighs floating above the mat. Keep the back of the neck long and breath here for a few breaths, then exhale and release back down to your belly.
Pressing into your hands, lift the hips and send them back towards your heels. Hands reach forward. Head bows. Breath here, opening the sides of the body, armpits, and front of the shoulders. 3-5 breaths.
Thread the Needle
From child’s pose, return to tabletop (wrists under shoulders, knees under hips). Inhale and lift the right hand up towards the sky, opening the heart to the right. Then exhale and reach the right hand under the left side of the body. The right shoulder and ear come down onto the mat. If it feels okay, slide the left hand out towards the front of the mat. Stay here for 3-5 breaths. Then return the left hand to plant near the head, press into the left hand to lift back up and return to tabletop. Repeat on the other side.
This sequence (with a little extra) was originally featured in this live-streamed class on Facebook. If you’d like to practice along with me, check it out. And to make sure you get all my weekly classes, click “like” on the page, and then click the “following” button and make sure notifications are turned on.