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Shoulder-stretching Yoga Poses for Beginners

Spending time hunched over a computer can lead to sore shoulders and poor posture. Forward-moving activities, such as swimming, cycling, driving, and even playing video games, can also lead to a forward slouch. Tight shoulders can be painful and difficult to move around, which is why you’ve probably tried stretching them after sitting for a long period of time — without even thinking about it! It’s natural instinct to want to release the tension you hold there.

Yoga can help your shoulders, spine, and chest open up, which will improve posture and bring your whole body back into balance. Keep reading to learn about shoulder-opening yoga poses that are suitable for beginners.

Benefits of Shoulder-stretching Yoga Poses

Stretching your shoulders after moving or sitting in a forward-hunching position simply feels good, but it has other benefits, too! As you add more flexibility to your shoulders, you lower your risk of injury and can improve your performance in sports. It can also help with daily activities that include lifting, turning, and pushing, such as carrying the groceries, walking a dog, or pushing a baby stroller.

When life gets stressful, many people hold tension in their shoulders. This can lead to fatigue, muscle knots, and pain. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and mobile will help to release this tension, which can increase your energy and even boost your mood! Improving the flexibility in your shoulders can help make your everyday life stress-free.

Caution

Do not practice these poses if you have a current or chronic injury to the shoulders, spine, or back. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.

The Sequence

Practice this sequence three times a week, or anytime you need to stretch your shoulders. It should take about 15 minutes to complete all of the poses. If you feel any sharp, pinching or jarring pain in any pose, come out of it immediately and rest. Always keep in mind these general guidelines when practicing yoga:

  • Move slowly in and out of the poses.
  • Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
  • Practice with an empty stomach.
  • Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.

Do not change the arrangement of the poses. Keep the exact order of this sequence, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits.

The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body! But its large range of motion also makes it very unstable, making it more prone to injury and dislocation than other, less mobile joints.

1. Cat-Cow Pose

This gentle warm-up pairs Cat Pose — Marjaryasana (mahr-jahr-ee-AHS-uh-nuh) — with Cow Pose — Bitilasana (bee-tee-LAHS-uh-nuh) — for a gentle, full-body stretch. Practiced together, the poses bring flexibility to the shoulders, spine, and neck, while softly stimulating the abdominal organs.

  1. Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-distance apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.
  2. Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. This is Cow Pose.
  3. As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back. This is Cat Pose.
  4. Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don't force your chin to your chest.
  5. Inhale and come back into Cow Pose. Then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
  6. Repeat 5-20 times, moving with your breath, and then rest.

2. Easy Pose with Shoulder Release

This variation of Easy Pose (also called "Simple Cross-Legged Pose") — Sukhasana (soo-KAHS-uh-nuh) — deeply stretches the shoulders and calms the mind. Sitting upright with your spine properly aligned also reduces stress and anxiety.

  1. Sit on the edge of a firm blanket and cross your legs in front of you at the shins. If your hips are very tight, you can sit on a bolster or block.
  2. Balance your weight evenly across your sit bones. Align your head, neck, and spine. Lengthen your spine, but soften your neck. Relax your feet and thighs.
  3. Reach your right arm across your chest, bringing your upper arm close to your collarbones.
  4. Clasp the elbow of your crossed arm with the opposite hand. You can also rest your crossed arm in the crook of your opposite elbow for more leverage.
  5. Draw in your crossed arm close to your body for a deep stretch. Hold for up to 10 breaths.
  6. Gently release your arms and lean back to change the cross of your legs. Repeat the shoulder stretch on the opposite side.
  7. Repeat 5-10 times, and then rest.

3. Eagle Arms

Bringing your arms into the upper-body portion of Eagle Pose — Garudasana (gahr-ooo-DAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the shoulders and back. Practicing the arms-only variation of this pose is calming and soothing.

  1. Begin standing at the top of your mat with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
  2. Soften your knees and relax your spine. Do not lock or hyperextend your knees.
  3. Extend your arms straight out in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right.
  4. Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them). Then lift your elbows and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling.
    1. If your palms don’t touch quite yet, press the backs of your hands together, instead.
  5. Hold for up to one minute, focusing on your breath and keeping your gaze fixed and soft. To release, unwind gently and repeat on the opposite side.

4. Bharadvaja's Twist

This simple, seated twist — Bharadvajasana I ((bah-RAHD-vah-JAHS-uh-nuh) — regulates metabolism and calms the mind. It stretches the shoulders, spine, torso, and hips. This pose is also a safe twist for women who are pregnant.

  1. Begin seated on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your arms resting at your sides.
  2. Shift your weight to your right buttock. Bend your knees and lower your legs to the left. Rest your legs on the floor. Place your left, inner ankle in the arch of your right foot.
  3. On an inhalation, lengthen your spine. Exhaling, twist your upper torso to the right. Place your right hand on the floor behind your body, and rest your left hand on your outer, right thigh. Turn your left palm up.
  4. If your left hip is lifting off the floor, place a folded, firm blanket or folded yoga mat beneath your right sit bone to re-gain balance.
  5. Draw your shoulder blades down your back and in toward your back ribs. Twist around your spine from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
  6. Turn your head to gaze over your right shoulder.
  7. Hold for up to one minute.
  8. To release, exhale and unwind your torso. Come back to center and extend both legs in front of you again. Repeat the twist for the same length of time on the opposite side.

5. Easy Pose with Forward Fold

Sometimes called "Simple Cross-Legged Forward Fold" — Adho Mukha Sukhasana (AH-doh MOO-kah soo-KAHS-uh-nuh) — this pose stretches the shoulders, back, hips, knees and ankles. Folding forward calms the mind. It also reduces anxiety and fatigue.

  1. Sit on the edge of a firm blanket, crossing your legs in front of you at the shins. If your hips are very tight, you can sit on a bolster or block.
  2. Balance your weight evenly across your sit bones. Align your head, neck, and spine. Lengthen your spine, but soften your neck. Relax your feet and thighs.
  3. Reach your arms up overhead, lengthening your spine.
  4. On an exhalation, slowly bow forward with your arms still extended. Rest your arms, hands, and forehead on the mat. If your forehead does not touch the mat, bend your elbows, stack your hands, and rest your forehead on your hands. You can also rest your forehead on a pillow or bolster.
  5. Hold for up to five minutes.
  6. To release, use your hands to walk yourself back to an upright, seated position. Change the cross of your legs, and repeat the pose.

Shoulder the Poses

Adding yoga poses to your regular routine will help you keep your shoulders flexible and mobile. It will also improve your posture. Be sure to take it slowly and never force a pose. With time and practice, your shoulders, chest, and spine will open up. You'll increase your range of motion in a smooth and powerful way!

Practicing yoga can help you stretch the shoulders, which can improve posture and prevent injury. Read this guide to learn shoulder-stretching yoga poses for beginners!
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