Yoga is, in my book, the best way to relieve tension anywhere in the body or mind. Yoga, when practiced regularly, relaxes muscle tension (and in the process, also strengthens your now relaxed muscles). Here are a list of poses that will help relieve tension around the shoulder area:
- Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Child’s pose is a very good way to start a practice. It's also an excellent rest pose during a vigorous flow.
Come to your hands and knees, press your hips back into your heels. Open the knees a little and then rest your belly and chest on your thighs; arms beside you and palms up. Allow your shoulders to melt downward. This is a gentle way to start warming up the shoulders.
- Bharadvajasana I (Seated Twist)
Sit upright with your legs extended in front of you. Now bend the legs to the left and tuck the heels in next to the left hip. Draw a breath in and turn your shoulders to the right.
The idea here is to stay gently grounded in the sit bones while extending the spine upward. Lift as you inhale and turn as you exhale. Keep your gaze over your right shoulder. Try to keep your shoulders at the same height, and keep your neck soft. Your chin should be in neutral, but if you want an added stretch, you can tuck the chin. Hold for a few breaths and then come back to center. Tuck your heels next to the right hip and turn the other way.
- Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
This is a wonderful pose and I often use it in both my yin and vinyasa (yang) classes. This pose offers a stretch across the chest and release in the shoulders.
Lying on your back, put a bolster or a block between your shoulder blades. Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall open. If that is too intense, just leave the legs long and resting on the mat. Rest your arms by your sides. You will notice that if you turn your palms to face up, that will increase the rotation in the shoulders. You can either support your head or, if it feels good, allow your head to drop back (this will stimulate the thyroid).
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold)
Standing with your legs wide, turn your toes inward slightly. Bring your hands to meet behind your back and interlace your fingers. If that is not accessible to you, hold a towel or a strap between your hands. With an inhale, lift your chest and roll your shoulders back, extending the hands backward. On the exhale bend forward, keeping your knees as bent as you need. Allow gravity to draw your hands over your head. This creates a lovely rotation in the shoulders. Hold this pose for at least eight breaths.
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Lie down on your back and bend your knees, feet hip width apart and on the mat. As you breathe out, press your feet into the mat and raise your buttocks, lifting the sternum towards the chin. Elongate the back of the neck onto the floor and breathe deeply. Reach for your feet with your hands, while rolling on to your shoulders. Keep your head still with your nose pointing up and gently press the back of your head into the mat, all the while lifting the hips.
You have the option of supporting yourself with your hands under your hips, or on a block. As you breathe, and your body starts to open, try to walk your shoulders closer to each other and reach your hands towards your feet. This will help open the chest. Move your chest toward your chin. This pose is also great for calming the mind.
- Paschimottanasana (Supported Forward Bend)
This pose is meant to release and relax your neck. With your legs crossed, sit on the floor in front of a chair. Place a pillow on the chair, and rest your head on the pillow with your arms just under your forehead. Gently stretch the neck muscles by dropping the chin to the chest. Breathe in and out while resting your head on the pillow.
- Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
When we sit in front of a computer we round our shoulders and push our chins forward. This pose is great for helping to correct our posture.
Sit up straight with your legs extended. Lift your left arm straight up, palm turned inward and thumb pointing to the back of the room. Bend that arm and reach it down between the shoulder blades. Now extend your right arm to the side, thumb down and palm facing back. Bend the arm and bring the elbow in to the side and reach up between the shoulder blades. Take hold of the other hand. If this is a little hard, use a strap between the hands. Lift your heart and press into your sit bones. Keep your chin in neutral and the neck soft.
- Savasana (corpse pose)
This pose is often used in meditation with the intention of complete relaxation.
Lie on your back, arms by your sides. Spread your feet apart and allow them to drop open. Let your arms rest by your sides, palms up. Allow your fingers to curl up naturally. Lift your shoulders, broaden them and then let them melt into the mat. Breathe with deep, smooth breaths.
Support your body where you need to. Sometimes a bolster under the knees, or between the shoulder blades, feels good.
- Yoga off the mat
Once back in a seated position, come to the top of your sit bones and gently draw your belly in. Lift your heart and allow your shoulders to slide down your back. Keep your chin in neutral and allow for a good distance between the ears and shoulders. This is also a good posture to hold when you are standing or walking. Keep the tailbone gently tucked under.
Remember to keep moving your body. It is joyful, gives us energy and keeps us healthy.