That Thing I Do with My Shoulders

Woman with hands behind back, folded into prayer position.

We must not ever tell Casey that I cropped her out of this photo.

My body is incredibly forgiving when I push it while running or practicing yoga. However, it — specifically my shoulders and upper back — is significantly less tolerant of my time at my desk or spent sleeping scrunched up on my side. To counteract that forward rounding, I’ve developed (i.e., adopted and stolen bits and pieces from other people based on what I like) my own series to bring movement to that part of my body.

This sequence usually takes me 10-15 minutes if I do it nonstop. However, sometimes I don’t have that much time all at once. For me, with this series of poses, it’s usually safe for me to break after any pose, do something else in my day, and come back to the next posture on the list. That said, like the hip thing, this is a personal practice, not a general guideline for others — that part has to be up to your own judgment.

1. Urdhva Hastasana — I use this pose to wake up mentally as much as physically; it’s my attention-getter that I’ve shifted from whatever I was doing before to focusing on my body’s sensations here. I usually end up doing 2-3 reps of this — and when my shoulders are stiff, my hands almost never touch above my head. 😉

2. Gentle Backbend — Either a standing backbend or a seated camel, depending on whether standing is an option. Like most of the postures in this series, I tend to hold this one for 5 breath cycles, then evaluate whether I want to repeat it and/or hold it longer.

3. Stopping Traffic — Which is not actual Sanskrit (shock and horror!) but is the way I remember the stretch Rox Does Yoga mentioned here:

lift your right arm to shoulder height out to the side, and flex your wrist so that your whole arm is engaged and your right palm is facing away from you like you’re stopping traffic. Turn your head and look to the left, away from the outstretched arm.

It works best for me when I keep both arms fully engaged, one out to the side, the other by my side.

4. Gomukhasana — At least the arms. For me, this creates the same sensation across my upper back as does the “stopping traffic” stretch above it — only cow face gets into it a little more deeply for me.

5. Shoulder Rolls — Because cow face can be pretty intense for my back body, I like to give myself a chance to release any compression that may have arisen from the first few poses.

6. Eagle — Again with the arms. I like this to actively stretch the muscles in my shoulders and upper back that have been passively held in a stretch-like position for so long (but have not been mobile or truly active in that position).

7. Half Sun Salutes — With whatever arm positioning my back feels ready to allow. I like to get in 3 of these if I have time for it.

8. Sun Salutes — My back loves the up dog to down dog transition. If I have room and time, I’ll do 2-3 of these. If room is the bigger issue, I’ll substitute dolphin pose at the wall or down dog with a chair. The moving sun salute is my preference, but hey — we don’t always get what we want. 😉

9. Straddle Forward Fold Variation — This is a pose where if I haven’t done anything as a warm up, my shoulders and back are just too stiff to give much here. However, if I gently coax my body through a few asanas beforehand, there is So. Much. Opening. It’s pretty amazing.

10. Seated Spinal Twist — Like gomukhasana arms, the arm variation in prasarita C is pretty intense. Done correctly, that’s a good thing — but it also means I need to give myself a chance to decompress afterward.

11. Padangusthasana — A forward fold with a toe lock. This is a final neutralizing and decompressing pose for me. The toe lock gives me a little more leverage to create a more space in my spine.

Depending on how I’m feeling, I try to get through the series about three times on any given day: once before I’m out the door in the morning, once while I’m at work, and once when I get home from work (in addition to whatever other movement I may be doing). The first time through the sequence, I do as much as I can all at once. The second and third times through, I’m far more likely to space it out, taking a break from sitting (if I am sitting) every 10 minutes or so to do some part of this sequence.


I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

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Posted in asana, restorative
2 comments on “That Thing I Do with My Shoulders
  1. R. H. Ward says:

    RE Stopping Traffic: I tend to think of it as “Talk to the Hand”, since you’re looking away from the outstretched arm, like “Whatev, I don’t need your sass”. Which, if you were doing it in the street, would probably stop traffic too. 🙂 I don’t think it has a Sanskrit name.

    • Tori says:

      I actually keep thinking about it in terms of Diana Ross’s “Stop! In the Name of Love,” but that seemed a little too silly to post on the list. 😉

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