Perfect shoulder placement in yoga can be elusive. For starters, unless you practice yoga in a mirror-lined room or have eyes in the back of your head, it's tough to know what your shoulders are up to. To make matters worse, poor posture is habitual. If your shoulders slouch, slump, or cave all day long, you can't help but bring a few bad habits into the yoga studio.
"I see a lot of students with shoulders that slope, turn in, and jut forward," says Mitchel Bleier, a senior certified Anusara Yoga teacher in Rochester, New York. "If those misalignments are maintained during yoga practice, especially during weight-bearing asanas, the risk of a shoulder injury goes up dramatically."
The first step in understanding correct shoulder alignment is to start simply, by exploring Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute). Here are Bleier's alignment instructions for his students in Tadasana: First, lift your shoulders slightly so they line up with the base of your neck. Simultaneously, draw the heads of the arm bones back, toward the wall behind you. Keeping a slight curve in the back of your neck, draw your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Your shoulder blades should lie flat on your back, instead of winging out. Feel your chest rise, but resist the temptation to pinch your shoulder blades together—doing this will only compress your spine. Instead, keep the bottom tips of your shoulder blades pressing into your back and spreading.