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Yoga Poses for Shoulders: Relieve Tension and Stiff Neck

Dhanurasana or Bow Pose, is an advanced pose for strengthening the shoulders and the spine.

Dhanurasana or Bow Pose, is an advanced pose for strengthening the shoulders and the spine.

We take many things for granted in life especially our body when it is functioning well. Modern life with all the technology and comforts hardly give us a chance to use all the parts of the body. That is why exercises and yoga asana or postures become essential.

If there is one place where we hold tension, it is usually the neck and shoulders. Most of us find that our necks bear the brunt of the stress and tension in our lives. We find ourself becoming tense during a difficult meeting, while waiting for an important phone call, after a trying day. We notice if your neck aches and your shoulders are hunched up and tight.

Doing some of the yoga poses or asanas for the neck and shoulders will cure the stiffness and tension while improving flexibility in the upper back, shoulders and arms. Our body is so interconnected that most of the yoga poses use the arms, shoulders and the movements of the spine which contribute to the health of the shoulders.

The Shoulder Joint.

The Shoulder Joint.

What are the Shoulders?

In the human body the upper joint of the human arm and the part of the body between this and the neck. The shoulder is made up of three bones and associated muscles, ligaments and tendons:

  • clavicle – collarbone
  • scapula – shoulder blade
  • humerus – upper arm bone

The shoulder is the group of structures in the region in what is known as the shoulder joint. The major joint of the shoulder is the glenohumeral joint, the 'shoulder joint' comprised of the part where the upper arm bone and the shoulder blade.

The shoulder is responsible for a wide range of actions of the arms and hands. It has to be stable enough to allow us to lift, push and pull. The compromise between being mobile as well as stable results in a large number of shoulder problems unlike those faced by other joints like the hip joint. The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the human body, this range of motion makes it extremely unstable and far more prone to dislocation and injury.

The first proof of a person being stressed is when the neck and shoulders feel stiff and the muscles feel painful to touch. Taking care of the shoulder joint and the associated muscles will help relieve stress.

Shoulder Circles or Rotation Warm Up

Warm Up for the Shoulder

It is good practice to do some warm up exercises or yoga poses before doing the strengthening and toning poses. The following three movements can be done whenever you feel you are hunched up and tight. They will help relax the shoulder muscles while improving flexibility. These are seated warm up yoga poses:

  • Sit in a comfortable position on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
  • See that the ears are aligned above the shoulders.

Shoulder Shrugs:

  1. Bring both shoulders up toward the ears as high as you can. Exaggerate the shrug and accentuate the holding.
  2. Release, letting shoulders drop back and down.
  3. Repeat 7 times

Shoulder Circles

  1. Raise your arms straight and sideways in level with your shoulders.
  2. Bend both elbows and lightly place your fingertips on top of the shoulders. If the muscles are tight you may not be able to do it. Do it as far as you can.
  3. Rotate you elbows as though you were drawing small circles on the walls.

Shoulder and Torso Twist

  1. Raise your arms straight and sideways in level with your shoulders.
  2. Bend both elbows and lightly place your fingertips on top of the shoulders.
  3. Inhale and exhale while, slowly and with control, turn your upper torso and head to the right. Hold for a few seconds.
  4. Inhale and return to center. Exhale and slowly turn to the left, hold for a few seconds.
  5. Inhale and return to center.
  6. Repeat 8-10 times on each side.
  7. Without straining or forcing, engage the abdominal muscles slightly and try to turn a bit further each time.

You can include some more warm up poses such as for the neck and upper back as well.

Yoga Mudra - Standing

Yoga Mudra - Sitting

Archer's Pose

Bow Pose

Eagle yoga pose or Garudasana is beneficial for the shoulders, upper arms and legs.

Eagle yoga pose or Garudasana is beneficial for the shoulders, upper arms and legs.

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Easy Yoga Poses for the Shoulders

There are many simple poses one can do to stretch and strengthen the shoulders. Incorporating some of the following poses into your yoga asana practice would be beneficial. The following poses are only a few suggestions:

Staff Pose – Dandasana

This is a basic sitting pose for all forward bends. Danda means 'staff' in Sanskrit, and regular practice of this pose improves posture, strengthens the back muscles and stretches the shoulders and chest.

Yoga Mudra (Standing and Sitting Variations)

This can be done both when standing or seated. Mudra means 'seal' in Sanskrit. Yoga Mudra is a symbolic gesture of yoga in which the head surrenders to the heart. With your head held lower than your heart, you can let go and trust that it is the heart – rather than the mind – that truly understands. This pose loosens the shoulders, arms and spinal column, and improves posture and back problems. It also gives a great stretch to the backs of the thighs and brings a fresh supply of blood to the face and head.

Archer's Pose – Dhanurdhara Asana

This standing pose strengthens the nerves and the leg muscles, opens the shoulder joints and chest, and increases concentration and focus. Repeat the pose on both sides.

Bow Pose – Dhanurasana

This prone yoga pose massages the abdominal organs and improves digestion, stimulates the thyroid, and opens the chest. It strengthens the back and arms and tones the thighs and buttocks. This is a more advanced pose must be done after being comfortable doing the Cobra Pose, Half and Full Locust Poses.

Eagle Pose -- Garudasana

This is a standing balance yoga pose which helps loosen stiff shoulders while at the same time strengthening the legs and back muscles. The seated Eagle pose can be done any time of the day, in the office or home, especially when you have been sitting at the desk for a long time.

Remember to relax in Corpse Pose or Savasana in between the poses as well as at the end of the session.

For the above and other more advanced poses for the shoulders and creating your own sequence check out the Yoga Journal - Shoulders. All the poses have multiple benefits because the various parts of the body are interconnected.

Many of the yoga poses for the hips and spine are also good for the shoulders. See the following articles:

Resources for Further Practice

  • How to Perform the Locust Pose in Yoga
    The half locust and the full locust pose in yoga are both beneficial to strengthen the buttocks, legs and increase energy and circulation in the body. Learn how to perform both the variations.
  • Benefits of Yoga Breathing Exercises or Pranayama
    Yoga breathing techniques or pranayama are an ancient yogic tradition and can be easily applied to our modern lifestyles. It has many physical and mental health benefits that will help you enrich the quality of your life.
  • Camel Yoga Pose, Ustrasana
    The Camel Pose or Ustrasana is an intermediate level kneeling backbend yoga pose. It stretches and strengthens the spine, thighs, abdomen and back muscles. It is an energizing and improves posture.
  • Yoga Poses for the Spine: Strength and Flexibility
    The spine is like the trunk of a tree, supporting the entire body structure. Taking care of it and maintaining its strength and flexibility is of primary importance. Find out some of the yoga poses that you can incorporate into your yoga practice.
  • Yoga Poses for Hips
    The hips and buttocks bear the weight or the human body and determine its balance. It is important to strengthen and ensure good muscle tone for easy movement and flexibility in daily life. Learn about yoga poses that can benefit the hips.


Sushma Webber (author) from New Zealand on March 02, 2013:

Thanks curious dreamer

Mahesh Mohan from India on January 01, 2013:

nice hub............

Sushma Webber (author) from New Zealand on January 01, 2013:

Thanks Kris for your feedback. Yes I too need to remind myself to do the stretches, especially when I am busy writing articles.

Kris Heeter from Indiana on December 31, 2012:

A very nicely written hub! These are are wonderful poses for the shoulders and as I sit here typing it's a good reminder to take a break and do some simple relaxation stretches:)

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