We don’t open our shoulders up enough. We think about our chest occasionally but we think about our shoulders even less often. Which is not good considering how many hours in the day we spend hunched over and collapsed.
But why stretch our shoulders?
Shouldn’t we be more focused on our back, our neck, our hamstrings?
Well, no. Ideally, we’re taking the time out of every day to stretch our entire bodies. But let’s say you can only focus on one body part a day. Don’t forget your shoulders. Many of us have tight shoulders and many of us still have tightening shoulders.
Why does this matter? Who really cares if your shoulders are tight? You should.
Tight shoulders put a lot of strain on the upper body and the neck. As our shoulders roll forward, we learn to live with less room to expand our lungs. We adjust to having chronic tension headaches. Because tight or tense shoulders impair our posture, this again rolls around to posture issues. Bad digestion, stress, depression (yes, walking hunched over robs you of your confidence), blah blah blah.
Point is, it’s bad.
A tightness in our shoulders can impact so many other things we might not realize. Practice good posture, roll the shoulders back, search some stretches to open up your chest and relax the shoulders down and back.
But if it were just that this article would be very short, wouldn’t it?
So, of course, there’s more to the story. Stretching our shoulders is hard. Why? Because shoulders are finicky and not well constructed. It’s easy to hurt them. It’s easy to pop them out. (Don’t be alarmed). So how can we safely release tension and tightness in our shoulders?
First and foremost, don’t push yourself beyond a place of mild discomfort. Especially with the shoulders. Progress might take more time this way, but it is significantly safer than putting yourself in a position your body cannot hold because there’s this thing with the shoulders I call snapback. If you put them in a place you cannot control, they will eventually snap back out of the pose and that sudden jerk (either more deeply into it or flying out of it) causes injury. Protect your shoulders and push them only as far as they want to go.
Second deal, quit practicing things wrong. This sounds condescending and obvious. Well duh I’m not trying to do it wrong! I know, but hear me out. You are…kind of.
We tend to really like to try and get into a pose. Even if it’s as simple as chaturanga (not simple). There’s more to the pose than dropping down and through. There is a whole slew of alignment stuff that we ought to know about. Where the hands go, what muscles are and aren’t activated. How it should feel. Check it out here.
Way, way, way too often we as yoga practitioners let the tips of the shoulders droop downward as we enter poses. Instead, we need to be activating the muscles of our upper back all around our shoulder blades. This pulls our shoulders back and protects them. But it’s not just in chaturanga, or even yoga. It’s everywhere. We light weights with poor posture. We run with poor posture. We do everything with poor posture. Take a moment throughout your moments to check yourself and fix your alignment. Your shoulders will thank you.
And third, back off.
In your workouts and definitely in your yoga, before implementing good shoulder alignment, back off. For chaturanga, go to your knees. With weights, lower the amount. The reason isn’t that you can’t do it. It’s because you’ve just changed a very large factor and you’re targeting specific muscles a little differently. Jumping right into it with different body posture might mean you can’t do as much…and you don’t want to find that out mid-movement. It might mean you can do even more than you’re used to. But again, you can find that out afterward.
So that’s how you keep yourself relatively safe.
There is one more very important thing you need to know though.
Don’t just stretch your shoulders.
Yep, stretching won’t be enough. While it does undoubtedly help you out, it does need it’s partner in crime which is shoulder strengthening exercises. There are about a billion and two exercises out there so feel to look ’em up for yourself but for now, I’ll show you some yoga poses.
1. Dolphin Pose
This is not an easy one. From downward facing dog, we drop the elbows to the mat. And then we suffer. Really though, we try to keep the alignment of our shoulders, we bend our knees if we have tight hamstrings, and we let the chest drop down. From here, we have an option to bring our hands together, place our head on the mat, and to tuck one knee in (maybe both) and chill in a modified headstand. With one or both feet on the ground, we are able to push our shoulders to their limit without fear of falling.
2. Warrior One
This one might not be as obvious, but if we are holding it for a while, we can really work on pulling the arms back, opening the shoulders, and strengthening them. Working to keep our arms in line with our head is a good way to strengthen our shoulders and improve our posture.
3. Crow Pose
Another one you might not think. Of course we have poses like backbends and cow face, but this one is just as good. When working on Crow Pose while simultaneously trying to improve shoulder flexibility and strength, keep the toes on the ground or on a block. This allows us to play around with our alignment. We can also do reclined Crow Pose before we hop into the normal way to really make sure we’ve got it.
Of course there are many, many more yoga postures we can use to strengthen and open our shoulders. I’m partial to believing that every yoga pose touches every part of the body if you’re open to it.
Try it out! Enjoy your exploration.