Breaking the Glass

Sage Rountree presents two key stretches for the shoulders.
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Sage Rountree presents two key stretches for the shoulders.

Without mobility around the shoulders, many actions of daily living—not to mention sports—are limited, and tightness around the shoulders, especially in the front, compounds the hunch that develops as we sit at desks and steering wheels. Building on the stretches for throwing and serving, here are some other approaches for getting into the shoulders to stretch, release, and, ultimately, find freedom.

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Both these stretches use Parighasana, Gate Pose, as a home base. The fundamental principle they illustrate, however, can apply to a range of poses—and it may challenge your assumptions. Teachers often cue side stretches as happening “between two panes of glass.” This can be an effective way to target the side lines of the body, but it prevents access to the long muscles of the back and the shorter, often very tight muscles of the chest. I propose instead that we break the panes of glass and experiment with more free-form movement. Taking the raised arm forward can create a fantastic stretch for the back, and taking it backward can help stretch the chest. Rotation of the arm affects the stretch as well. Play with these approaches and see what you discover.

Ugly Gate

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From Gate Pose, start with the traditional approach of moving directly out over the extended leg. Then try taking the top arm forward, either reaching it actively or letting it drape by bending the elbow. As you investigate the range of sensation here, try turning your thumb up, then down; also move your elbow in space. Provided your knees and back don’t hurt, discover what freedom you can find outside the panes of glass, and watch how your breath changes the quality of your experience.

Head Gate

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Keeping your legs as is, now angle your torso to the other side. Spend a few breaths with the upper arm extended, then experiment as you did on the first side. Rotate the arm from the shoulder, and rotate the wrist too. Try bending your elbow and supporting your head with your hand. What new space can you open when you break the glass?