Sun Salutations and backbends are great for opening up the shoulders. But if you have seriously tight shoulders and upper body, isolating the area with some static stretches can help relieve pain and creakiness. These five stretches will loosen the shoulders and help to keep you ouch-free.
Half Dog Shoulder Stretch
From Child’s Pose with your arms extended, lift your hips over your heels and slide your arms forward. The spine drapes toward the floor and the shoulders release. If this feels extreme, back off by bending your elbows and bringing your hands closer together. Stay and breathe for a few rounds, then shift back into Child’s Pose and draw your hands alongside your feet. Rest the backs of your hands on the floor by your hips, palms up.
This shoulder stretch will decompress any tension accumulated in the lower back during half dog. From Child’s Pose, release the backs of your shoulders and the rhomboids by coming into rabbit pose. Bring your hands to the mat, just past your lowered head, and interlace your fingers. Your elbows will rest near your ears, forearms on the mat. Inhale and round your back, lifting your hips over your knees and taking weight onto your forearms as you lift to the crown of your head. Not much weight at all should rest on your head; let the structure of your arms support you. Stay for a few breaths, spreading the entire back wide, then exhale to return to Child’s Pose.
Shoulder Strap Circles
For these shoulder circles, you’ll need to use a yoga belt or a makeshift substitute. A belt, a scarf, a towel, or a woven dog leash can work in a pinch. Move comfortably within your natural range of motion. Don’t force anything, and if you’ve been having rotator-cuff issues, be especially gentle. Take a comfortable seated position or stand in mountain pose. Hold your strap with your fists spaced wider than your shoulders. Inhale and lift the strap overhead, continuing into the space just above and behind your head—it will feel like a sticking point. Linger here for a beat, then exhale and bring the strap back in front of you. Repeat for a few breaths, keeping your shoulder blades low on the back and your spine in mountain-pose alignment.
Next, slightly widen your grip on the strap, so that as you inhale and lift your arms, you can move through the former sticking point to lower your arms behind you on an exhalation. Continue through the cycle, moving slowly with the breath: inhale, up; exhale, down.
Push the Wall Stretch for Shoulders
The push-the-wall stretch imitates the arm position in Downward-Facing Dog without bearing body weight on the wrists. In addition to stretching the shoulders, it gives a hamstring stretch and back release. Spread your hands against the wall, fingers wide, insides of your elbows facing each other. Walk back, sliding your arms down the wall, until you come to a 90-degree bend at the hips. Your legs will be in Mountain-Pose alignment, hips over knees over feet, and your upper body will be similarly balanced and long.
Press into the wall to straighten your arms, but don’t jam your shoulders into your ears. Keep your head between your upper arms with your gaze to the floor. From this position, you might see how gently rotating your upper arms changes the sensation in your shoulders and upper back. Find a pleasant stretch in a neutral shoulder position, and hold for a few breaths.
Clock-Face Shoulder Stretches
The wall makes a nice prop to work deeply around the shoulder joint. Bring your outer right foot close to the wall, so that you are facing down its length, and extend your right arm to a three o’clock position, directly behind you. The palm rests flat on the wall, thumb up, pinky down. Slowly move closer to the wall, until you reach a comfortably intense stretch, and breathe.
Next, lift onto the balls of your feet and take your arm to the twelve o’clock position, directly overhead. Slide your hand back to one o’clock, then slowly lower your heels while keeping your hand high on the wall. This will be a tough stretch, so don’t push past what feels like a reasonable edge. When you move to the left side, turn the other way and begin in a nine o’clock position. On both sides, experiment with different arm positions to find the stretches that target your personal tightnesses.
Excerpted from The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga by Sage Rountree PhD, E-RYT 500. Want more yoga for athletes? Join Active Pass today! As part of your membership perks, you can choose 2 books from Velo Press, including The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and Everyday Yoga, also by Rountree.
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