Fitness & Health

Yin yoga poses for the shoulders: Improve flexibility and relieve tension

Easy Seated Pose: Yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Yin yoga targets and stretches your deep connective tissues. These five yin yoga poses for the shoulders will make you more flexible and relieve tension.

What is yin yoga?

The term yin yoga comes from the ancient Taoist concept of yin and yang. Yang relates to the movement that creates heat in the body. Whereas, yin is about finding stillness and cooling down the body. The theory goes that we need both to come into balance and stay in peak condition.

Most yin yoga poses are practised sitting or lying on the floor. The pace is slow and it’s suitable for both beginners and experienced practitioners.

Benefits of yin yoga

Yin yoga has many benefits. It stretches and targets both the deep connective tissues between the muscles and the fascia throughout the body. The benefits include:

  • Calming and balancing the mind and body
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Increases circulation
  • Improves flexibility
  • Releases fascia and improves joint mobility
  • Balances the internal organs and improves the flow of chi or prana

When not to practice yin yoga

Although there are several benefits to yin yoga, it might not be appropriate for everyone. For example, someone with hypermobility. Hypermobility is known as double-jointedness. It describes joints that stretch further than normal. It’s the opposite of limited range of motion.

Hypermobile joints can be easily injured and can also contribute towards muscle fatigue, chronic pain and even permanent disability. Because yin yoga’s emphasis is on stretching connective tissues, it can create problems for people who are hyper-flexible. However, people with hypermobility have a couple of options when practising yin yoga. You should do poses intelligently and use props to support your body.

Another instance of when not to practice yin yoga is during acute injury. Those with acute injuries should consult a doctor before starting a stretching programme to ensure sufficient recovery has taken place. The yin yoga poses for the shoulders below all include recommendations for people suffering from injuries.

Yin yoga poses for the shoulders

The poses below have been taken from Travis Eliot’s A Journey into Yin YogaThey are examples of how the poses can be done. They’re there to serve as general guidance. You might be more flexible or restricted. Do your best to follow the alignment points and modify as you need to. But, if your pose looks different to the pictures, that’s OK!

We recently wrote a post featuring other shoulder exercises, Resistance band exercises to strengthen your shoulders and back.

Reverse prayer pose

Reverse Prayer Pose: Yin Yoga poses for the shoulders

Reverse Prayer Pose

Suggest duration

1-3 minutes

Benefits and risks

The pose provides a deep stretch for the chest, shoulders, wrists and forearms.

This pose should be modified or avoided if you have existing shoulder or wrist problems.

Alignment points

  • Begin in hero pose (fig. 1) or easy seated position (fig. 2).
  • Secondly, bring both hands behind the back and join the palms together with the fingers facing upwards.
  • Slide the hands as high up the spins as you comfortably can, keeping the palms touching.
  • Finally, up tall and draw the shoulder blades in toward each other, finding the stretch. Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
Hero pose - yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Hero pose

Easy Seated Pose: Yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Fig. 2 Easy Seated Pose

Modifications and other options

Instead of bringing the palms together, try grabbing your elbows with the opposite hands. Alternatively, make fists and press them toward each other. For an even deeper stretch, you can try leaning forward.

Eagle arms pose

Eagle Arms Pose: Yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Eagle Arms Pose

Suggested duration

2-3 minutes

Benefits and risks

This pose also provides a great stretch for the shoulders, forearms and wrists. It also helps expand the back muscles connected to the shoulder blades.

This pose should also be avoided or modified if you have an existing shoulder injury.

Alignment points

  • Firstly, begin in the shoelace (fig. 1), hero or easy seated position.
  • Reach both arms out in front, with your palms facing upwards.
  • Place the right arm under the left arm and then wrap the forearms around each other until your hands face each other.
  • Sit up tall with your chin and biceps parallel to the floor.
  • Finally, gently pull your elbows away from the chest, spreading your shoulder blades away from each other. Repeat the whole process on the other side.
Shoelace pose: yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Fig. 1 Shoelace Pose

Modifications and other options

Reach both your arms out in front of you. Bend your left elbow so that the forearms and hand face the sky. Shift the left forearm in front of your face. Reach the right arm over the left arm. Finally, bend the left elbow to deepen the stretch for the outer right shoulder (fig. 2). Repeat the process on the other side.

For an even deeper stretch, try leaning forward.

Eagle Arms Pose Modification: Yin Yoga poses for the shoulders

Fig. 2 Modification of the Eagle Arms Pose

Camel pose

Camel Pose: Yin Yoga poses for the shoulders

Camel Pose

Suggested duration

2-3 minutes

Benefits and risks

This pose opens up the chest and shoulders and stretches the thighs, hip flexors and front of the body. It can be used as a back bend for students who are pregnant. We have more exercises for pregnant women in our blog, First-trimester exercise: How to do it safely and effectively.

The camel pose isn’t advised for those with low back pain, neck injuries, high blood pressure, heart disease or history of stroke. Modification for those with knee pain is explained below.

Alignment points

  • Firstly, kneel down, stacking your shoulders over your hips and place your hands on your hips.
  • Next, press the shins and tops of the feet into the mat. Roll your little toes down and point the toes straight back.
  • With the knees hip-width apart and the sitz bones over the knees, roll the inner thighs back.
  • Place your hands on the lower back and lengthen the tailbone toward the floor.
  • Lift the ribs as the heart rises toward the ceiling and roll your shoulders back. Press your shoulder blades toward the back ribs.
  • Finally, Lift your gaze toward the ceiling, keeping the cervical spine in alignment with the rest of the spine. If you’ve got enough flexibility in the back and enough stability in the pose, you may release the hands and the heels.

Modifications and other options

If you suffer from knee pain, sensitivity or have experienced injury, use a folded blanket under the knees for support.

For a one-armed camel pose, place your right hand on top of the right heel and reach your left arm toward the sky (fig. 1). Repeat on the other side. You can also tuck the toes under to modify.

Camel pose modification: yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Fig. 1 Modification to the camel pose

Thread-the-needle shoulder stretch

Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch: Yin yoga poses for the shoulders

Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch pose

Suggested duration

2-3 minutes

Benefits and risks

This pose opens up the shoulders and chest. Plus, it provides a relaxing spin and twist.

Be gentle if you have a history of neck pain. Also, if you experience tingling or loss of sensation in the hands, come out of the stretch.

Alignment points

  • Begin on all fours and extend one arm towards the sky, stretching through the top chest.
  • Secondly, lower the arm and thread it under the opposite arm, releasing the outer shoulder onto the floor.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Modifications and other options

Place a blanket under the knees, shins and feet for comfort. Also, the hand positioned in front of the face can slide forward towards the top of the mat for more of a shoulder stretch in that arm (fig. 1).

First modification for the Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch : yin yoga poses for the shoulder

Fig. 1 First modification for the Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch

The hand positioned in front of the face can also reach around behind the back and either grab the inner thigh or rest on the sacrum (fig. 2).

Second modification for the Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch : yin yoga poses for the shoulder

Fig. 2 Second modification for the Thread the Needle Shoulder Stretch

Further reading

More yin yoga poses for the shoulders and various parts of the body can be found in A Journey into Yin Yoga.

The following titles feature various yoga exercises:

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Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.