Eight yoga inspired exercises for opening the shoulders

Who doesn’t have a cranky set of shoulders?

Hunching is the body’s natural way of protecting itself from outsiders by physically closing off access to the vital organs.

It might be caused by an old injury, or by the slumping in a bad posture we do all day at a desk. Or even, especially in these days of staying at home due to quarantine rules, by what I like refer to as the “couch syndrome”. Surely our lying long hours on the couch is not helping our shoulders and backs to maintain the correct posture and healthy mobility.

Whenever you realise that you are slouching forward, try to take a second to roll your shoulders back and take a deep breath.

Although we have had to momentarily quit our normal training and physical activities, we can still take care of our body by maintaining healthy habits.

As I have to cope with a pretty stiff set of shoulders too, I have introduced shoulder and chest openers at the beginning of my daily practice to prepare my body achieving deeper postures.

Following you find my favourite yoga inspired exercises that can help you release your shoulders, and leave you with a sense of openness to your chest. This will definitely improve your posture and your breath will start come deeper and more easily.

Balasana (or Forward Fold) with Clasp:

Sit on your heels and clasp your hands behind the back. Take a deep inhale to open chest. On the exhale, fold forward, abandon your forehead to the ground and gently relax the neck. Stay here for 5 deep breaths to a minute.

You can practice this position starting from standing tall as well. After a deep inhale, soften your knees and fold forward. Keep your spine long, and your head and neck released towards the floor. If you feel comfortable, bend one knee and then the other to get more into your shoulders.

Cow Face:

Sit on your heels and reach the right arm to the ceiling. Bend the right elbow and let the right hand fall between your shoulder blades. Reach the right elbow with the left hand to very gently deepen the shoulder opening with the weigh of your left hand. Do not force the position by pushing too much!

If you are comfortable in this pose, you may bring your left arm down, bend the elbow to reach the left hand up to the centre of your back. You can take hold of the right hand. Take care that the right arm doesn’t add any unwanted pressure on your neck. Stay here for a period of 5 deep breaths to a minute. Repeat on the other side.

Thread the Needle:

Begin on all fours (Marjariasana). Reach the right arm underneath the left arm, allowing the shoulder and temple to release to the ground. The left hand can stay where it is, or crawl a bit to the right over to your head, or also reach behind your back to open your left shoulder. Stay here for 5 deep breaths to a minute. Repeat on other side.


Lie down on your stomach. Lift your torso and thread the right arm underneath the left at shoulder height, about a 90 degree angle away from your body. Reach left arm in the opposite direction (again, about 90 degree angle away from torso). Hook the chin over your shoulders. While holding this position, keep your hands and fingers active to deepen your stretch and lengthen your arms. Breathe here as long as you feel comfortable to stay (minimum for 5 deep breaths). Repeat on other side.

Eagle Arms:

Start sitting on your knees or in a comfortable cross-legged position. Wrap your right arm under the left arm. Lift up through your arms by reaching elbows and fingertips up and away from face. Stay here for 5 long, deep breaths to a minute. Unwind and repeat on other side.

Reverse Prayer:

Sit comfortably on your knees or in a cross-legged position. Bring your arms down to the sides of your body and, bending the elbows, reach the arms behind your back. Press your palms together in a prayer position at the centre of your back and reach hands as high up the spine as feels good. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.

(Definitely not the easiest for my stiff shoulders, but super effective in releasing tensions from the back of your shoulders!)

Extended Puppy:

This pose is a cross between Child’s Pose and Downward-Facing Dog. It is useful to lengthen the spine and open the shoulders.

Start from all fours (Marjariasana). Curl your toes under and, as you exhale, walk your hands forward to extend your arms while keeping them active. Drop your forehead to the floor and let your neck relax. To feel a nice long stretch in your spine, keep pressing the hands down and stretch through the arms while pulling your hips back toward your heels. Breathe into your back, feeling the spine lengthen in both directions. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

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