When I was about 19 years old, I pinched a nerve in my right shoulder. It was ridiculously painful and prevented me from turning my head to the right for a good two days. More than anything, it was kind of funny. What 19-year-old pinches a nerve after doing…nothing? Seriously. I woke up one morning, did a big, wide-armed, stretch, and…pop! Before I new it, I was on the floor, squealing. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m glad no one was there to witness the debacle. But that’s a tangent, because the more important part is that since that day, that pinched nerve has recurred over the years.
Since starting yoga, the pinching has subsided. For instance, I’ve never since pinched it so bad as to not be able to turn my head. However, it is something I must constantly be aware of. I now only notice the pinching in my shoulder when my muscles are getting super tight, when I’m lying flat on a hard ground, or when I’ve neglected doing my shoulder opening stretches.
And so…shoulder opening stretches have become a somewhat constant occurrence at my house.
And these stretches aren’t just good for pinched nerves. If you’re a yogi, you know how tight your shoulders can get from all those downward dogs, headstands, arm balances, and the like. If you’re not a yogi, you still likely know how tight your shoulders can get from stooping over a computer all day while editing.
All-in-all, we are a community of shoulder abusers!
Thus, today I’m showing you two of my favorite shoulder stretches.
There are days I do an entire shoulder opening routine. But I don’t always have time. I do, however, always have the extra two minutes required to do these two stretches. I do them every day. You might consider incorporating them into your daily routine also! You’d be surprised how much better your upper back feels in a few short minutes.
This first lovely stretch gets both shoulders at the same time and feels like bliss. You will need 1-2 yoga blocks (and if you don’t have yoga blocks, rest your elbows on the seat of a chair instead).
Directions: (Note: If your shoulders are narrow, you can use one block. If you find your elbows aren’t comfortable on only one block, line two blocks up together so that you are comfortable.) Set your yoga block in front of you while on your hands and knees in table top position. Bring the block close enough to comfortably rest your elbows on the block. Once your elbows are resting on the block, move your knees back a couple of inches, and push your head through your arms. Bring your hands together in prayer position, and touch the center of your back with your thumbs. You will feel an awesome stretch in your upper shoulders. Gently push your heart toward the floor (you may even find you can rest your head on the floor). Adjust the height of the block depending on the openness of your shoulders and what feels best. I like the medium height of the block — it allows me to get a good stretch while still resting my head on the floor, which feels best to me (shown in photo A). I also sometimes use two blocks at the tallest height — I use this height when I want even deeper shoulder opening (shown in photo B). Hold the pose and soak up all the awesomeness for a minimum of 30 seconds. I love to hold this one longer, at least one minute.
This second yummy stretch works one shoulder at a time and stretches the front of the shoulder beautifully. You don’t need any props for this one — just a wall or a door to lean against.
Directions: Stand perpendicular to a wall, feet about shoulder width apart. Straighten out the arm closest to the wall, press your palm against the wall, and press that same shoulder against the wall. Use your free hand to press lightly against the wall and deepen the stretch. I like pressing the foot nearest the wall against the wall and using the outer foot to lean in. You may want to play with the placement of your feet a bit to determine what is most comfortable for you. Do this on both sides, holding for 30 seconds per side.
I hope these stretches help you release some of that tension you hold in your shoulders! If you like them, please feel free to share.