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Yoga for Shoulders

By Richard Rosen

YogaForShoulders

One giveaway of poor posture, often the result of the stresses and strains of daily life, is rounded shoulders. When we hold ourselves this way, our upper back hunches, lifting the shoulders toward the ears, and our chest collapses, narrowing the space between the collarbones. All of this can lead to the head jutting forward, which creates compression and tightening in the neck. This condition creates the potential for any number of physical ailments, including chronic headaches, back pain, and breathing difficulties. A shoulder sequence should include stretches that open and lift the heart area, and exercises that draw the shoulder blades down the back and return the head to a neutral position, perched lightly on the top of the spine.

Shoulder Sequence

Total time: 45 to 55 minutes

  1. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or Virasana (Hero Pose)
    Find a seated position that is comfortable for you, and make sure you have a strap nearby. Keeping the hands well apart, hold the strap in both hands with the arms stretched forward and parallel to the floor. Inhale and sweep the strap above your head, then exhale as you bring it down behind your torso. Next, inhale the strap up again above your head, then down in front of your torso on the exhalation. Keep your elbows straight and your shoulders away from your ears. Repeat 10 to 15 times. (Total time: three minutes)
  2. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) arm position
    Take the right arm on top first. Hold for one minute. Then perform the arm position for Garudasana (Eagle Pose), right arm above the left, for the same length of time. Repeat with the left arm superior for the same length of time. (Total time: four minutes)
  3. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
    Come into Downward Dog with your fingertips grazing the edge of a wall. Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes. Inhale and swing your torso forward until the crown of your head presses against the wall in a variation of Plank Pose. Hold for one to two minutes, spreading your shoulder blades wide. Return to Adho Mukha Svanasana for 30 seconds to two minutes, then Plank again for one to two minutes. Finally release your knees to the floor. (Total time: three to four minutes)
  4. Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Balance)
    Perform at the wall for one minute. If you'd like, you can repeat for the same length of time, kicking up with your non-habitual leg. (Total time: one to two minutes)
  5. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
    Take Handstand at the wall for one minute. As you did in Forearm Balance, you can repeat for the same length of time, kicking up with your non-habitual leg. (Total time: one to two minutes)

    If you are not yet working on Handstand, try Half Handstand at the wall. Measure off a leg's distance from the wall by sitting in Dandasana (Staff Pose) with the heels pressing against the wall. Turn around so that you're facing away from the wall and take Downward-Facing Dog. Place your hands where your hips were in Dandasana. Slowly walk your feet up the wall so until they are parallel with your hips. If this is your first time trying the pose, you may want to have a partner nearby to spot you.

  6. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal)
    Spread and press the palms in Anjali Mudra. Use these actions to create a similar spreading and firmness of the shoulder blades on the back torso. (Total time: two minutes)
  7. Utthita Parsvottanasana (Extended Side Stretch Pose)
    Place the hands in reverse Anjali Mudra, pressing behind the back. Or you can cross the forearms behind the back and clasp hold of the elbows. Be sure to reverse the cross on the other side. Hold for one minute on each side. In between each side, and at the conclusion of the second side, perform Prasarita Padottanasana II (with the hands on the waist) for one minute. (Total time: four minutes)
  8. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I)
    One minute on each side. (Total time: two minutes)
  9. Vasisthasana (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Vasistha)
    One minute on each side. (Total time: two minutes)
  10. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) with a variation
    Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hips distance apart. Place a strap around the ankles and lie back. Come into Bridge Pose with the hands on the strap. Hold it and walk the hands up the strap, toward the feet. Keep the shoulder blades drawing down the back. Repeat three times, each time for one minute. (Total time: three minutes)
  11. Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)
    Come into the pose two to three times, holding for 30 seconds to one minute each time.

    Alternative: Come into Tabletop Pose with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. (Total time: one to three minutes)

  12. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
    Take Dhanurasana two to three times, holding for 30 seconds to one minute each time. (Total time: one to three minutes)
  13. Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja's Twist)
    One minute on each side. (Total time: two minutes)
  14. Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
    Practice working up to five minutes. Finish with Halasana (Plow Pose) for one to two minutes. (Total time: six to seven minutes)
  15. Savasana (Corpse Pose)
    (Total time: 10 minutes)

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