Use Your Head About Shoulders
With your palms facing each other, bring your arms up in front of you and stretch the arms forward enough to feel the shoulder blades broaden but not so much that your breastbone drops. Continue to keep the palms facing as you smoothly stretch the arms up overhead. To build strength, hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
Also try to keep the same amount of low back curve with which you started: Don't compensate for lack of full range of motion in your shoulders by overarching and possibly compressing your lower back. Once you've begun to open and strengthen your shoulders, poses like Down Dog, Elbow Balance, Headstand, and Handstand can help you build even more strength. If you can stand near the wall, maintain your regular low back curve, and bring your arms overhead all the way to the wall (don't let those elbows bow out to the sides), congratulations! You've joined an exclusive group, the 180-Degree Club. Your membership in the club should result in new freedom of movement in all of the arms-overhead standing poses, less grumpiness in your low back in backbends, and less effort in inversions.
Julie Gudmestad is a licensed physical therapist and certified Iyengar Yoga teacher. She runs a private physical therapy practice and yoga studio in Portland, Oregon, where she combines her Western medical knowledge with the healing powers of yoga.