I am not a yoga teacher. I was even a reluctant yoga student for the first year or so of my practice. My dad, of all people, pressured me to go with him to our local class so he wouldn’t have to go alone. I used to think the only type of yoga that would be for me was the super athletic, fast-paced classes with inversions and other contorted poses. It turns out, I’m not very good at those, and while I enjoy that type of yoga, I feel that I get the most benefit from attempting to “master” the slower flows.
Yoga has taught me that flexibility is a type of strength. It isn’t about hyper-extending, or being able to sit on your head, but developing the muscle control to go deeper into a pose. It’s about being able to use your body through the full range of motion. When I started doing yoga, I noticed my paddle stroke became more comfortable. My neck and shoulders didn’t hold the tension they had in the past. I quit “clicking” when bringing my arms above my head.
Today I am sharing some poses that will help with shoulder mobility and strength. These are some of my favorites out of many variations. As with any stretching, try not to hyper-extend joints. If you are “bouncing” to reach further into the pose, maybe back off a little bit and go just to the edge of where you can hold the pose. It’s not that movement is bad – we do want to subtly adjust while in the pose to find the best stretch; however, we do not want to go past the point of control.
Sit on the floor with your legs out long, arms at your sides. Bend the knees and place your feet on the ground. Place your hands on the ground six or so inches behind you with finger pointing towards the feet. Push into the hands and feet while lifting the chest and pelvis. You may not be able to get your hips or chest up very high, but the whole front of the body will be opened up.
Stand with feet slightly more than hip distance apart and feet out at a 45-degree angle. Fold forward and bend your knees so your hands can rest on the floor. Sink the hips and raise the chest, bringing the hands to a “prayer” position. You can rest the elbows on the inside of the knees for more chest and hip opening. Your heels may come off of the ground when the hips sink below the knees due to calf and ankle flexibility, and that is ok!
Start on your hands and knees, with wrists/shoulders and knees/hips stacked. Take the right hand and place it palm up, fingers pointing left, and thread it under the left hand, rotating your torso until your head rests on the floor. Slide the left hand on the ground so it is extended overhead. Push into either hand and play with placement to feel a good stretch through the tops of the shoulders. Go out the way you came in and then do the same on the other side.
Lay on your belly. Bend the knees with the intention of having your feet touch your butt. Lift the chest and grab the tops of the feet with the hands. This may be as far as you can get into the pose, depending on how tight the hips and shoulders are. Make sure the knees stay in line with the hips so the legs don’t splay out. Roll the shoulders back and down from the ears, creating a mini-bend in the upper back. On an inhale, lift the chest and legs up as you pull them towards each other. Breathing may cause you to “rock” on the belly, which is fine as long as it is comfortable. To release, lower back to the floor and let go of the legs.
Wide-legged Forward Fold with Clasped Hands
Stand with legs wider than hip distance and hips facing forward. The stance should be comfortable, but you will feel a stretch in the inner thigh and hamstrings. Interlace the fingers behind the back, trying to push the palms together while straightening the arms – do not go to a full locked arm … just try to use the arms to open the chest. Make sure the shoulders are rolled back and down from the ears to ensure an open chest. Start to tilt forward from the hips to bring the chest towards the thighs – do not lock out the legs … instead keep a subtle bend in the knees. After you have bent forward, begin to let the hands fall away from the body towards the floor and opening the chest. You may not be able to get your arms away from your back at first, but the shoulders will open with practice. Back out of the pose the way you came in – first by bringing the hands to the back, then hinging the upper body back to standing.