Shoulders are one of the most common places for people to carry tension. It’s easy to walk around all day, not realizing that your shoulders have been slowly creeping up towards your ears—and you might not even notice until you come to your mat.
If you find that your shoulders could use some attention, targeted yoga poses are a great option to help open up the shoulders and release any tension that builds up throughout your day.
Balasana — Child’s Pose with Blocks
By using two blocks to modify your Child’s Pose, or Balasana, you’ll be able to get a deeper stretch in your shoulders while in this restorative posture.
Place two blocks on the lowest height at the top of your mat, about shoulder width distance apart, with the shorter sides paralleling the back and front of the mat.
Start on your knees, sitting back onto your heels. Separate your knees from each other so that there is space to fit your torso between your legs, but ensure your big toes remain touching.
On an exhale, bend forward from your hips and bring your torso forward, extending your arms out in front so that your palms can rest on the blocks. Bring your forehead to the ground as you let your torso rest between your knees.
Ensure that you are releasing your tailbone towards your heels, and continue to lengthen your spine as you deeply breathe in this position.
Hold the position for a minute or longer, and slowly lead yourself back up to release.
Sasangasana — Rabbit Pose
Rabbit Pose, or Sasangasana, allows you to create space along the length of your back, allowing your shoulder blades to open and stretch.
Begin by sitting back on your heels. Reach back and grab your heels, with your thumbs on the outside of your feet.
On an exhale, roll down towards the ground and place the top of your head on the mat and towards your knees, so that your forehead is touching your knees.
While still holding onto your heels, begin to lift your hips and roll forward until your arms are fully straightened. Hold the position for about 30 seconds to a minute, and slowly bring your hips back down to your heels. Roll back up to release yourself from the pose.
Uttana Shishosana — Extended Puppy Pose
Extended Puppy Pose, or Uttana Shishosana, is a restorative posture that lengthens the spine and stretches the shoulders, while also calming the mind.
Begin in a table top pose, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Tuck your toes, and then start to walk your hands forward. Then, drive your glutes back and down, but keep them off your heels.
Rest your forehead on the ground, and keep your arms engaged, with your palms on the ground and elbows lifted.
Bring awareness to your neck and shoulders and release any tension, allowing them to fully relax. Continue to feel the stretch in your arms, and reach them out further if you’d like to go deeper. Hold for about a minute or longer, and slowly bring yourself back up to table top to get out of the pose.
Parsva Balasana — Thread the Needle Pose
Thread the Needle, or Parsva Balasana, works deeply into the entire back, particularly focusing on the shoulders.
Start in a table top position, with your palms and knees on the ground. Your wrists should be aligned directly under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips. Bring your head in a neutral position, with your gaze downwards.
On an exhale, lift the weight off your right hand and slide your right arm underneath your left arm, with your palm facing up. Your right shoulder should rest down on your mat, along with your right ear, with your gaze now facing left.
Your left arm can be bent or extended out in front of you, and your hips should remain raised. Bring awareness to your shoulders, neck, and lower back, and let go of any tension as you breathe through this pose. To release, bring your left hand back in line with your head if you extended it. Slowly push through your palm, return to table top, and repeat on the other side.
Dhanurasana — Bow Pose
Bow Pose, or Dhanurasana, is an intense backbend that can help you open up your shoulders.
Start by laying on your stomach. Bend your knees and bring your heels towards your glutes. Reach back for your outer ankles, with your palms facing in. Actively drive your ankles up and towards your head, while simultaneously lifting your head and heart towards the ceiling and back towards your toes.
Hold this pose for 20 to 30 seconds, while focusing on keeping your feet and ankles touching, and shoulders away from you ears. Gently let go of your ankles and slowly release back down to your stomach.
Garudasana — Seated Eagle Arms Pose
The arm positioning in Eagle Pose, or Garudasana, is great for stretching the space between your shoulder blades.The seated posture allows you to focus on the upper body stretch and target your shoulders, but you may choose to do full Eagle Pose for an all over body stretch.
Sit either on your knees or with your legs crossed, with your spine and neck elongated. Extend your arms out in front of you at shoulder height, and then bend your right arm up and towards your face. Then, bend your left arm and wrap it underneath the right, twisting so that you can work towards getting your palms to touch.
As you breathe through this posture, be mindful of making sure your shoulders do not creep up towards your ears. Work your arms away from your face so that you feel a deeper stretch in your shoulders. Breathe here for about 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
Gomukhasana — Cow Face Pose
Cow Face Pose, or Gomukhasana, provides a deep stretch along the entire upper back and arms. You may need a prop, such as a strap or towel, to make this pose accessible.
Start in a seated position. Bend your right arm behind your back, so that your hand is between your shoulder blades. Raise your left arm above your head, and bend your elbow so that your hand is behind your back.
Try to hook your hands together behind your back. If you are unable to do this, you can use a strap or towel to make up that extra length. Hold the pose for about 30 seconds to a minute, being mindful that you are keeping your spine straight and breathing deeply. When you are done, release and repeat on the other side. Both sides can be different, so you may find that you only need the strap on one side.
Paschim Namaskarasana — Reverse Prayer Pose
Reverse Prayer Pose, or Paschim Namaskarasana, is a heart-opening arm pose that stretches the shoulders, chest, and arms.
Begin seated, either with your legs crossed or on your knees, or standing with your feet hips width distance apart.
Elongate through your spine and roll your shoulders back. Move your arms behind your back, and begin to bend at your elbows so that you can bring your palms together, approximately between the bottom of your shoulder blades. The outside edge of your little fingers will be pressing into your back, allowing your fingertips to point up.
Hold the position for approximately 30 seconds, and then slowly release.
Uttanasana — Forward Fold with Chest Expansion Pose
A Forward Fold, or Uttanasana, uses your own body weight to release tension in the back, and the added Chest Expansion helps you get a deeper stretch in the shoulders.
Start standing with your feet hips-distance apart, and hinge forward at your hips. Bring your hands to the ground, and bend your knees as much as you need to. Release any tension in your neck, and stay in this pose for a few breaths to feel the stretch in your hamstrings and back.
To move into the chest expansion, remain folded and bring your arms behind your back, with your hands at your lower back. Clasp your hands together, and slowly bring them forward, towards your head. Try to keep your palms together, and don’t force your arms beyond your limits.
Ensure your head remains heavy and relaxed, and that your spine is elongated. Hold the position for about 30 seconds to a minute, and slowly roll up to get out of the pose, releasing your hands at the top.
Prasarita Padottanasana — Wide Legged Forward Fold Pose
Like Forward Fold Pose, Wide Legged Forward Fold, or Prasarita Padottanasana, uses your body weight to release tension in the back. By adding a twist to the pose, you get more of a stretch in your spine and shoulders.
Start standing. Step your feet wide apart from each other. On an inhale, elongate your spine, and on an exhale, begin to bend forward from your hips, until your hands reach the ground. If you can’t touch the ground, use blocks to make up the space. Let go of tension in your neck and relax your gaze behind you.
Bring your right palm slightly in, so that it is lined up under the center of your chest. On an exhale, twist your torso to the left and lengthen your left arm up towards the ceiling, so that your fingertips are pointing up.
Keep your hips squared, and ensure that the twist is coming from your torso. Bring your gaze to the side, or up towards your left hand.
After holding for about 30 seconds, slowly bring your left hand back down to the floor to release, and then repeat on the opposite side.
Even if you can’t commit to a full yoga session, try out a few of these poses if your shoulders are feeling tense. By committing to just a few minutes, you’ll feel a release in your shoulders and entire body.