9 Yoga Poses to Open Your Shoulders
Who doesn't have a cranky neck, back, or set of shoulders? Whether it's from an injury, all of the slumping we do all day at a desk, or even walking down the street, hunching is the body's natural way of protecting itself from outsiders by physically closing off access to the vital organs. Any time you notice that you are slouching forward, try to take a moment to roll your shoulders back and take a deep breath. Pick any three (or more if you have time) of these yoga moves, and your shoulders will drop, your chest will open, and your breath will start to come deeper and more easily.
Forward Fold with Clasp: Stand, clasp hands behind back, and take a big inhale to open chest. On exhale, soften knees and fold forward, letting head fall toward the ground and gently releasing neck. If you feel comfortable, bend one knee and then the other, getting more into your shoulders. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Dolphin: Begin on hands and knees. Hold opposite elbows to get shoulder's distance, then place forearms parallel to one another. Drop head and reach chest back through arms in the direction of your feet to enhance shoulder opening. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Reverse Prayer: Sit comfortably, float arms down to either side of body and, bending elbows, reach arms behind back. Press palms together in a prayer position on spine and reach hands as high up spine as feels good. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Eagle: From standing, hug left knee to chest. Bend right knee and cross left leg around right leg, hooking left foot on either side of right leg. Wrap right arm under right arm. Sit down as low as you can and lift up through arms to stay balanced, reaching elbows and fingertips up and away from face. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths. Unwind and repeat on other side. (If preferred, you can do the same arms pose without the legs in a seated position.)
Bow: Lie facedown, bend knees, and grab ankles. Press feet into hands, keeping knees hip-width apart, and lift chest off the ground. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Cow Face: Kneel and reach right arm to the ceiling. Bend right elbow and allow right hand to fall between shoulder blades. Take left hand to right elbow and allow weight of hand to deepen the shoulder opening (no pushing!). If this is easy for you, bring left arm down, bend the elbow, and reach left hand up the center of your back, taking hold of right hand. Lean back slightly into arms, taking care that right arm isn't putting any pressure on neck. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Thread the Needle: Begin on all fours. Reach right arm underneath body, allowing right shoulder and temple to release to the ground. Allow left hand to stay where it is, or crawl it a bit to the right over to your head. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on other side.
Criss-Cross: Lie facedown on stomach. Lift torso and thread right arm underneath left at shoulder height, about a 90-degree angle away from body. Reach left arm the opposite direction (again, about 90-degree angle away from torso). Hook chin over shoulders. Walk fingers away from one another to lengthen arms and breathe here for 5 deep breaths. Repeat on other side.
8-Point: Lie facedown on stomach. Reach left arm out at a 90-degree angle from body with palm facing up. Use right hand under right shoulder to start to press away, bending right knee. If comfortable, reach left toes behind left knee as you rotate body. Reach right arm to ceiling, flex palm, and allow hand to fall toward the ground with gravity. Stay there for as long as you like. If there's enough space, allow right hand to meet the left in a clasp and breathe there for as long as feels good. (Warning: This is a deep one, come out of the pose as slowly and mindfully as you came in!)