5 Yoga Poses To Open & Tone Your Shoulders

Written by Gina Sorensen

Caring for your shoulders is about more than just looking good in a tank top. It’s about understanding how to access and enhance the flexibility of the joint safely, and balancing its natural mobility with improved stability.

Because our shoulders are built for mobility and not stability, injuries can occur with repetitive movements and poor alignment. Keep healthy shoulders in yoga by balancing poses that stretch the muscles and fascia around the joint with poses that tone and strengthen. Preserve the elastic integrity of your ligaments by paying diligent attention to alignment in the following poses.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Mountain Pose provides gentle tone for three of the rotator cuff muscles. Supraspinatus activates in the first 30º of abduction, so keep a low diagonal extension of the arms. In addition, infraspinatus and teres minor activate to externally rotate the arm.


Shoulder Alignment Tips:

Draw your shoulder caps up toward your ears, roll them back, and release your shoulder blades down.

Float the back of your head up to stack ears over shoulders.

Rotate your arms to face your palms forward.

Energize the lower half of your body into the ground and allow the energy to rebound off the floor to float the upper body.


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Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)

The muscles around the shoulder blade, including the trapezius, rhomboids, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior, are largely responsible for keeping the shoulder blades on the back and the heads of the upper arm bones in line with the elbows in this pose. If your shoulder caps are dipping down, these muscles are not strong enough to perform this pose on your toes. Lower to your knees and gradually build strength.


Shoulder Alignment Tips:

From plank pose, shift forward and bend your arms while hugging elbows toward your waist.

Arrive at a 90º angle in the elbow, with shoulders in line with elbows, and elbows over wrists.

Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)

Purvottanasa compliments the previous pose by stretching the muscles that Chaturanga Dandasana strengthens, namely pectoralis major and minor and the anterior deltoids, and strengthening opposing muscles.


Shoulder Alignment Tips:

With legs extended and fingertips several inches behind your hips pointing forward, press down into your hands and reach the soles of your feet to the ground to lift the hips.

Lift your chest as high as you comfortably can.

Keep the back of your neck long and slowly release your head back.

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Dolphin Pose

In Dolphin Pose, the muscles that hold the scapula on the back of the ribcage will be working hard. These include the rotator cuff and back and chest muscles such as latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and pectoralis major.


Shoulder Alignment Tips:

Place your forearms on the mat with elbows shoulder-width apart. Lace fingers or place palms down.

Press forearms and elbows actively into the floor to prevent collapsing in the shoulders.

With your shoulder blades on your back, widen them away from your spine and reach them toward your waist.

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Create balanced flexibility in the shoulders with a pose that inwardly rotates the arm.


Shoulder Alignment Tips:

Begin by extending your arms out to your sides. Rotate one arm inward so that your thumb points down. This will slightly round your shoulder forward. Wrap this arm around your back and slide back of your hand up your spine.

Rotate the other arm outward, extend overhead, and bend at the elbow to touch the space between your shoulder blades.

If possible, bind by gently hooking fingers.

Feel one elbow reach toward the ceiling and the other descend toward the floor.

Keep the shoulder blades against the back of the ribcage and lift the chest.

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