If, like me, you work at a desk you may find your shoulders get tight and sore as the day goes on. As I hunch forward over my keyboard I can feel the tension building until I straighten up and they shriek with pain.
There are ways to find relief. Yoga teacher Naomi Annand recommends these four exercises to mobilize your shoulders, stretch out muscles and release tension. It took me just 10 minutes to do and afterwards my shoulders felt wonderfully supple, relaxed and pain-free. The last pose was especially relaxing—I could have stayed there for hours. Next time my terrible desk posture gives me grief, I’ll know exactly how to curb the pain and release the tightness in my shoulders. Hopefully, though, I’ll catch my poor posture in time using the tips Annand provides below.
Exercises For Tight Shoulders
Gliding shoulder flow
Sit on a chair, making sure you have some space in front of you, or stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your hands by your sides. As you inhale, lift your arms forward, and as you exhale, lower your arms back to your sides. Allow your shoulder blades to lift when your arms lift and notice how they glide up your back as you move. If your shoulders are making clunking sounds or you’re experiencing any discomfort, take your arms a little wider and move more slowly. After four or five rounds, find stillness again and see how your shoulders and chest feel.
Overhead shoulder stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart or kneel on a mat. Hold a strap or a towel in front of you with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift the strap above your head (move your hands further apart if you need to) and allow your hands to sink behind you a little. Keep your arms balanced so you’re not pulling more to one side. Ensure your ribs are tucked in and down; don’t let them pop out. Take five slow breaths here.
To come out of the pose, breathe in, reach your hands straight up and breathe out as you let your arms float back down to your sides. Drop the strap on the floor and stand in mountain pose (balanced, relaxed and upright, with feet hip-width apart) to feel the effect on your shoulders.
Stand next to a wall, with your right shoulder around 4 inches away from it. Reach your arm straight up the wall, pointing to 12 o’clock, then gently move your hand back to 10 past. Stretch your fingers wide and find length in your middle and fourth finger. Move your hand down to quarter past and take a few breaths here, feeling an opening sensation in your chest and arm. You can take this stretch further by turning your feet and torso away from the wall.
Stand in mountain pose for a few breaths before repeating the stretch on the other side. Notice how the two sides feel different.
Place a bolster lengthways on your mat or the floor. If you don’t have a bolster, you can use cushions or a couple of rolled-up blankets. Raise one end with some blocks or books under it. Lie on your back along the bolster with your head on the raised end. You can add another blanket or cushion to support your head. You’ll need more cushions or blocks to support your arms so your shoulders can relax fully. Allow your arms to spread out, palms up and elbows bent. Bending your knees, place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart, and let your knees rest against each other. As you settle into this restorative pose, take some deep breaths into your belly and feel any tension release from your chest, like water flowing out across your collarbones, down your arms and into the palms of your hands. Rest here for three minutes, or up to 15 minutes if you can.
These exercises are featured in Yoga: A Manual For Life and Yoga For Motherhood, by Naomi Annand, published by Bloomsbury.
Tips To Improve Your Posture
If you notice you’re hunching forward and rounding your shoulders during the day, be careful not to overcorrect your posture. “Don’t thrust your shoulders back and pinch your shoulder blades together,” says Annand. “Imagine your shoulders are a coat hanger. You want to be broad and wide, rather than pinched and tight or collapsed and rounding forward.”
Get yourself into the right posture from the start. “Align your head above your ribcage, your ribcage above your pelvis, and feel your diaphragm moving as you breathe.” Becoming aware of your posture throughout the day can help your body remember this shape more easily.
Naomi Annand runs yoga studio Yoga On The Lane in east London and has published two books: Yoga: A Manual For Life and Yoga For Motherhood.
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