9 Yoga Stretches For Shoulders: Free Up Your Upper Body Starting Today

Last Updated:

Many of us live fast-paced lifestyles where we move from appointments to Zoom calls, to long commutes, and right back to it the next day.

Millions of people spend hours sitting at a desk daily, hunched over, and are starting to feel the effects of tension and tightness in their shoulders, neck, and upper back.

The stress of everyday life can take a toll on our bodies, particularly our shoulders, and in this article, we want to share with you some of the best yoga stretches for the shoulders that can be a simple and effective way to find release.

Read on to learn:

  • Common causes of shoulder tightness and pain
  • Why you should try yoga stretches for shoulders
  • 9 yoga stretches for shoulders
  • A practice with yoga stretches for shoulders
a woman doing a yoga stretches for shoulders

Common causes of shoulder tightness and pain

Although there are many, some of the most common causes of shoulder tension are:

  1. Poor Posture: Many people spend their days sitting at a desk, which can cause slouching and rounded shoulders. This posture puts pressure on the shoulders and can lead to tightness and pain.
  2. Repetitive Motion: Certain activities, such as playing sports, using a computer mouse, or lifting weights, can cause repetitive motion injuries. These injuries can lead to inflammation and pain in the shoulder.
  3. Sports Injuries: Athletes are at a higher risk of shoulder injuries.
  4. Aging: As we age, our muscles and joints become less flexible, and our bones become weaker, leading to shoulder pain and stiffness.
  5. Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation and pain in the shoulder joint.
  6. Trauma: Trauma to the shoulder, such as from an accident or a fall, can cause shoulder pain and tightness.
a woman doing an arm stretch in a park

Why you should try yoga stretches for shoulders

Practicing yoga stretches for shoulders can be a nice way to take a break in the middle of your day and reap the benefits:

  • They help in relieving tension and stress from the muscles and joints.
  • Can help improve the range of motion of your arms and shoulders, making it easier to perform daily activities.
  • Alleviate pain and discomfort caused by tension and stiffness.
  • By regularly practicing yoga stretches for shoulders, you can reduce the risk of injury.
  • Yoga stretches for shoulders help in improving posture by strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, leading to better alignment.
  • Practicing yoga stretches for shoulders can increase circulation to the shoulder joint, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
  • Promote relaxation through controlled breathing and slow, intentional movements, making it a great way to destress and unwind after a long day.

9 yoga stretches for shoulders

Whether you’re a seasoned yoga practitioner or completely new to the practice, these yoga stretches for shoulders are accessible and easy to incorporate into your daily routine.

Here are some of the most common yoga stretches for shoulders:

1# Child’s Pose (Balasana)

annotated image of a woman doing child's pose

Extended child’s pose is a great yoga posture for improving the flexibility and strength of your shoulders.

Some of the benefits of extended child’s pose for the shoulders include:

  • Help release tension in the shoulders that may have built up over time due to poor posture or repetitive actions.
  • Stretches the muscles at the back of the shoulder blades and the chest muscles that can become tight and restrictive when sitting in a hunched position for long periods of time.
  • Stretch the muscles in your shoulders and develop more flexibility.
  • Gradual flexibility in the shoulders can help to prevent injuries.
  • Helps to build shoulder stability and strength. More strength will result in better form and relieve pressure on other muscles.

Begin in tabletop position; bring your big toes to touch and your knees a bit wider than your hips.

Start to send your hips back toward your heels and as you extend your arms out in front of you, lower your forehead to a bolster, a block, our your mat.

Breathe there for a while.

2# Thread The Needle Pose (Parsva Balasana)

an annotated image of a man doing thread the needle pose

When you practice threading the needle, the shoulder of the arm that is reaching under the other arm rotates externally, which stretches the muscles around the shoulder blade and the upper back.

Parsva Balasana also stretches the triceps, biceps, and rotator cuff muscles, which can become tight from daily activities like typing, driving, or carrying bags.

From all fours, inhale and reach your right arm up, and then thread it underneath the left shoulder, bringing your right shoulder and ear to the floor, a bolster, or a block, for support. Allow your right palm to face up to the ceiling.

If you’d like, extend the other arm up toward the sky, or thread it behind your back to also open the left shoulder.

Take a few breaths there and then do the other side.

3# Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing puppy Pose

Puppy pose, also known as Uttana Shishosana and also as Anahatasana in Sanskrit, is an excellent yoga posture for stretching the shoulders.

The puppy pose helps to stretch the shoulders’ rotator cuffs, which are the muscles responsible for stabilizing and rotating the shoulders.

Starting from tabletop, the arms are extended forward, and the chest is lowered towards the floor or a support beneath you, creating a deep stretch in the shoulders.

Make sure you keep your hips stacked over your knees.

It is also great to open up your chest, alleviating tension in the shoulders.

4# Cow Face Arms (Gomukhasana Arms)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing a cow face pose

This is a great pose to stretch the shoulders, increase flexibility, relieve tension, and stimulate blood flow and circulation in the arms.

However, not everyone may be able to perform cowface arms, especially if they have shoulder or arm injuries, limited mobility, or sometimes, just shorter arm bones!

To try it, start by bringing your right arm up overhead, and as you bend your elbow, allow the palm of your right hand to rest at the back of your neck or between your shoulder blades.

If you want more, proceed with the bind.

5# Eagle Arms (Garudasana Arms)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing eagle pose

One of the best yoga stretches for shoulders, Garudasana arms, or eagle, are a great way to stretch and strengthen the shoulders, as well as the rest of the arm and the wrists.

If the traditional shape feels inaccessible, try crossing your arms one over the other, and instead, bring your hands toward your triceps or shoulder blades, and to increase the sensation, lift your elbows away from your chest.

Breathe, and then do the other side.

6# Reverse Prayer (Paschim Namaskarasana)

This is one of the best yoga stretches for shoulders since it helps to counteract the hunched-over posture that many of us have from sitting at a desk or computer for long periods.

To practice this shoulder stretch, bring both hands behind your back and unite your palms, facing your fingertips upward.

Alternatively, grab opposite elbows or wrists behind your back and relax your shoulders down, taking some of the intensity out of the posture.

7# Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

annotated image of a woman doing yoga's downward facing dog

Downward facing dog is a great shoulder stretch because it engages the entire upper body, including the shoulders, arms, and upper back.

In this pose, the arms are extended and the weight is shifted onto the hands and feet, which helps to stretch and strengthen the shoulders.

Additionally, this posture encourages the shoulder blades to move away from each other, which can help to counteract the hunched shoulder position that many people experience from sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time.

Practicing downward facing dog regularly can help you improve shoulder flexibility and mobility, reduce tension in the upper body, and promote better posture overall.

To learn more about downward facing dog and its variations, read this piece.

8# Shoulder Rolls

One of the most simple and accessible yoga stretches for shoulders, is shoulder rolls.

Start by sitting or standing in a stable position, with your spine erect.

Inhale to lift your shoulders forward, and up.

Exhale to roll your shoulders back and down. Repeat this a few times, and then switch directions with your circles.

9# Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing bridge pose

Yoga stretches for shoulders like bridge pose strengthen the shoulder girdle, which helps to stabilize the shoulder joints and reduce the risk of injury.

This asana engages and activates the muscles in the upper back, chest, and shoulders, which improves circulation and helps to release tension and stiffness in those areas.

You can always vary, modify, and adapt this posture to suit different flexibility and mobility needs, making it accessible to a wide range of practitioners by using props.

A practice with yoga stretches for shoulders

For those wanting to put these yoga stretches for the shoulders into practice, try this class:

To conclude

Incorporating yoga stretches for shoulders into your day can improve flexibility and range of motion, reduce tension and discomfort, and even prevent injuries.

When practiced often, these yoga stretches for the shoulders can provide lasting benefits for not only your shoulder health, but for your stress-levels and overall well-being.

Roll out your mat and give them a try!

Photo of author
Laia is an Afro-Catalan accessible and inclusive yoga & meditation teacher. She has trained in hatha, vinyasa, trauma-informed yoga, yin yoga, and restorative yoga and holds E-RYT 500 and YACEP accreditations with the Yoga Alliance. Additionally, she is a freelance writer and translator, publishing in Catalan, English, and Spanish. As a former professional athlete who lives with a chronic illness, Laia has gained valuable insights into the benefits of self-care and the importance of pausing and slowing down. She is dedicated to sharing accessible and sustainable practices of yoga and meditation to help people create a more harmonious life. Being a black and chronically ill individual, her mission is to empower non-normative yoga teachers to find their unique voices and develop tools to make wellness practices accessible to the communities they serve, thereby taking up space and creating a more inclusive and diverse yoga industry. Furthermore, as a writer and creative, she is passionate about supporting other creatives and innovators. She fosters a genuine community dedicated to finding balance while staying productive and inspired. Laia has developed unique techniques that intertwine yoga and meditation with writing, journaling, and other accessible methods to help each other stay creative and mindful.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.