I have very tight shoulders and upper back before I started practicing yoga. Practicing yoga over the years have helped me eased the stiffness and open up by a fair bit. It took me almost 2 years to be able to push up into a full wheel pose (due to the tightness in both my shoulders and upperback, they were as stiff and hard as a rock, a super tough rock to crack!!)
Modern lifestyle habits, poor postures and constantly slouching over our computers and mobile devices are causing our shoulders to be tense and tight. Stress, anxiety and anger can also build up tension in the shoulders and neck, causing a strain to the cervical spine (the spinal cord that connects to the brain) and may be the underlying cause of long term migraines or frequent headaches.
Here are 5 stretches which I personally think that they are very effective to combat stiff shoulders. And it takes only 10mins of your day!
1) Heart Openers on blocks (3mins)
My personal favourite stretch to start a yoga practice with an open heart.
- Place one block underneath the bottom tips of your shoulder blades and one block underneath the head. (Adjust the height of the block underneath your head to the taller height if you feel too uncomfortable).
- Arms can be stretched overhead with fingers interlocked (release index finger) or placed 45degrees besides the body.
- Close your eyes and just surrender your upper back and shoulders to the blocks. Relax for 3 mins (about the length of a song).
This is a wonderful stretch especially after a day of slouching at work .
2) Puppy Dog Stretch (1 min)
- Come onto your hands and knees in a 'tabletop' position. Slowly walk the palms forward, - Keep the hips up high and belly button lifted.
Option 1: Place your forearms, palms and forehead on the mat .
Option 2 (as shown in pic): Melt the chest and chin down onto the mat
Dont hold the breath! Continue breathing into the areas of tension. Remember to engage the belly button by pulling it in towards the spine to stablise the lower back. Stay for 1 min.
3) 8 Point Stretch (1 min per side, total 2 mins)
- Come lying down onto your belly
- Arms out wide like a Letter “T” shape, both shoulder heads touching the mat, both arms are 90degree perpendicular to the sides of the body.
- Bend the left knee and use your body weight to flip over to the right side. If you are comfortable, bend the right knee and come into bridge pose position legs (as shown in pic) Otherwise, keep the right leg straight.
- The right shoulder head stays on the mat and right arm is straight out to the right side, making a 90degree angle with the side of your body. Left arm goes up and over to find the right palm to interlock. If the palms do not interlock, simply bend the left elbow and continue to peel the left shoulder head back.
Place your head to rest on a towel or block. You are using your own body weight to help “push” back the rounded shoulder head! Stay for 1 min and change side. This will feel intense if you have super tight shoulder, but it helps to relieve the tension in the shoulder heads and is very effective in improving rounded shoulders.
4) Wall Shoulder Stretch (2mins)
- Measure an arm length distance from the wall by sticking your butt out and pushing the wall away from you
- Walk the palms upwards as you melt the chest down in between your shoulders. It is not mandatory to be able to touch your chest to the wall, as long as your arms stay straight (not bent)
- Stay and breath for 2 mins (I feel alot here!)
5) Forward Bend with Shoulder Stretch (2mins)
- Come into standing position, feet hipwidth distance apart. Inhale to lengthen your spine.
- Exhale suck your belly in towards your spine and fold forward. Either interlock your fingers (full palms touching each other fully, or use a towel in replacement of a strap).
- Stay still with elbow straight or sway your arms from side to side slowly for 2 mins.
This is a simple 10mins sequence that anyone can do at home. The props required are 2 yoga blocks and 1 yoga strap (alternative: towel). Many friends and students ask me where to get yoga blocks/props for home practice. I get them from a Singapore based website called Fuzzy Flex. You can check them out here. It is good to invest in these as they help to support your practice.
So, anytime you find yourself slouching and rounding your shoulders, make a mental note to roll the shoulders back and down and smile through your collarbone. This simple shift in posture also helps to elevate your mood ! Poor posture – look and feel grouchy. Good posture with open shoulders and chest – look good and help to generate feelings of positivity !