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For many of us, stress lands in our shoulders. Healthy shoulders are both mobile and strong. In fact, adding some strengthening moves to complement familiar yoga stretches can, over time, help optimize your upper body’s overall health. Try these six poses to care for and awaken your shoulders through a combination of stabilization, opening, and stretching your chest.
Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat and Cow Poses)
For Cow Pose, inhale and tip your hip points down, widening your sit bones. Dip down into your belly and open through your chest. From Cow Pose, exhale, curl your chin in, and use your exhalation to lift your navel in and up. Press into your hands and feet to find some space between your shoulder blades as your upper spine domes into Cat Pose (pictured). Your spine arches tail-to-crown, like an angry cat. Move through 3-5 cycles of Cow and Cat.
See also Video: Neck & Shoulder Release
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Plant your hands ﬁrmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart. With feet hip-width apart, draw your hips up and backward. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
See also Downward Facing Dog Pose
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
From Downward Dog, release your knees and shins to the mat, and glide your hips back toward your heels. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
Need more support for your knees and/or hips in this pose? Slide a yoga blanket under your knees or roll one up to fill in the space between your hips and heels.
Anahatasana (Heart Melting Pose)
From Child’s Pose, float your hips above your knees. Reach your fingertips forward, and release your chest toward the ground. Rest your chin or forehead on the ground (or on a prop). You could also place your elbows on blocks and keep your hips above your knees (pictured). Either way, this release can help mobilize your shoulders. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
You can use a yoga bolster to support you in this pose.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet planted beneath your knees. Place your hands next to your hips. Press evenly into your hands and feet, and lift your pelvis up toward the ceiling, into Bridge Pose. Interlace your hands underneath your back as you draw your shoulder blades closer to your midline. Opening your chest can help counteract shoulder tightness. Hold for 5-10 breaths.
See also Bridge Pose Variations
Matsyasana Variation (Fish Pose)
Place one block on its middle height and, optionally, one block on its highest height, both parallel to the top of the mat. The block at the middle height will go just under your mid-back and the block a the highest height (if using) will go under your head. As you are ready, slowly recline onto the two blocks.
You can elongate your legs if you are looking to stretch through your belly. If this variation of Matsyasana puts too much pressure on your lower back, bend both knees and place both feet flat on the floor to relieve tension in your back. You could open your arms wide to find a nice opening across the chest. Rest here anywhere from 2-15 minutes. This shape offers many benefits, including relief for chest and shoulder tightness.
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