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5 Yoga Poses to Ease Shoulder Pain

Garudhasana Arms

Shoulder pain seems unavoidable these days. We spend so much time hunched over keyboards and our other various devices that it’s quite common for our shoulders to take a hit.

We’ve all heard the expression about “carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.” Our shoulders are a place where many of us hold tension, even if we don’t spend our days hunched over devices. Next time you’re in a stressful situation, check in with your shoulders. Are they hunched up around your neck? Are they hunched forward in a protective position? For most of us, these positions are reflexive in times of stress. We’re often unaware that we’re creating shoulder tension.

Passive bodywork techniques such as massage can go a long way toward relieving shoulder discomfort. But we can take an active role too. Certain yoga poses can help us mobilize and retrain stiff shoulders.

5 Yoga Poses for Shoulder Pain

  1. Garudhasana (Eagle) Arms: Garudhasana is a traditional balance pose that expands both the back of the pelvis and the area between the shoulder blades. But the Garudhasana arm position can easily be practiced on its own. I enjoy practicing it in Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose), Utkatasana (Fierce Pose) and in simple poses such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose) and Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Make sure you breathe generously into the space between your shoulder blades. One contraindication: if you have rotator cuff problems, I wouldn’t recommend practicing this arm position.
  2. Talasana (Palm Tree Pose): Talasana mobilizes your thoracic spine and the muscles of your upper back and shoulders. These are the areas of the body that most often get frozen forward when we bend over our devices. Our thoracic spines love to bend laterally. This makes lateral bending a great way to reawaken our upper backs and relax our shoulders.
  3. Parvrtta Sukhasana (Revolved Easy Pose): In addition to lateral bending, our thoracic spines love to twist. So mobilizing your thoracic spine by practicing a twist can also be helpful to ease stiff shoulders. You can choose any twist, of course. I like this simple twist because it incorporates Easy Pose, an inherently grounding seated pose. In this pose the upper body can twist more freely than in some of the more complicated bound twists.
  4. Supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose): Now that you’ve mobilized your shoulders and thoracic spine by bending forward, bending laterally, and rotating, your body is ready for chest opening. Our thoracic spines do not actually back bend. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t support them to move in that general direction. Make sure that your head is supported in Matsyasana so that it doesn’t tilt back. Tilting your head back can create neck and shoulder tension. Feel free to use a Yoga Bolster instead of two Yoga Blocks if that feels more comfortable for you.
  5. Savasana (Relaxation Pose): Don’t forget to practice Savasana. Give yourself at least 10 minutes. Savasana helps you to release residual tension and to integrate the benefits of your practice. Giving yourself a nice, relaxing Savasana will help you further dissipate stress in your body and mind.

About Charlotte Bell

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to schools and to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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