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6 Yoga Poses For Shoulder Strength and Tension Relief

8 min read
a woman is practicing Cow Face Pose, sitting with her back_shoulder yoga poses
Elyce Neuhauser post Reviewer Elyce Neuhauser post Reviewer
Verified by Elyce Neuhauser
Yoga Expert, E-RYT 500, Certified Meditation Coach

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With so much time spent hunched over the computer screen, it’s no wonder that many people are struggling with shoulder pain. And that’s where shoulder yoga poses can help relieve tension by strengthening your shoulders and upper back. 

Frequently performing these yoga poses for arms and shoulders will combat pain in your daily life and help to prevent injuries when you practice more difficult yoga asanas, such as arm balances

Shoulder Tension Is Not Just About Your Shoulders

Your shoulder joint has more range of motion than any other joint in your body. There are eight muscles that stabilize and protect the shoulder, also known as the glenohumeral joint, the most important of which are your rotator cuff muscles.

We often think of the deltoid – the large muscle which gives the shoulder its defined shape – as the only one to target. However, shoulder tension involves other muscles as well.

Stretching and strengthening the rotator cuff – the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint – with a variety of shoulder yoga poses addresses this area from all angles and helps to treat tension and pain effectively.

The chest, neck, and back muscles, including your rhomboids and trapezius, must also be stretched and strengthened as they support the shoulders in activities such as lifting and throwing and facilitate movements like extension and rotation. 

Bad posture, a common cause for shoulder pain, is often caused by stiffness in these other muscles. By stretching and strengthening the entire upper body with this shoulder yoga sequence, you’ll get a comprehensive set of movements to alleviate pain and discomfort. 

6 Shoulder Yoga Poses to Try

#1 Cat and Cow Pose (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)

a woman is practicing Cat-Cow Pose_Marjaryasana and Bitilasana_shoulder yoga poses

These simple stretches are two of the best shoulder yoga poses as they provide relief for the neck, shoulders, and back while simultaneously opening the chest and activating the core muscles.

How to practice:

  • Start on all fours in the Tabletop position, with your knees under your hips and your wrists below your shoulders.
  • Inhale to Cow Pose: extend your spine, looking upwards without straining your neck, and stretching the front of the shoulders while you gently draw your shoulder blades towards each other. 
  • Exhale to Cat Pose: round your spine as much as possible, so your shoulder blades spread wide apart. Lower your head and allow your tailbone to curl under. Hug your belly towards your spine. While in Cat Pose, press your palms firmly into the ground to intensify the stretch, and tuck your chin towards your chest to additionally stretch your trapezius muscles.
  • Follow your breathing as you alternate between Cat (exhale) and Cow (inhale), then hold each pose for 5 to 10 breaths. 
  • Release and relax into Child’s Pose.

#2 Ear To Shoulder Pose (Sukhasana Variation)

a woman is practicing Ear To Shoulder Pose_Sukhasana variation_shoulder yoga poses

Adding a neck stretch to your shoulder-opening yoga sequence will relieve tense muscles on all sides of the neck and also target the upper shoulders. 

How to practice: 

  • Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position (Sukhasana) that allows you to keep your spine upright. Rest your hands on your thighs.
  • Begin by slowly rolling your head side to side. Then, keep the head on the right side, tilted towards the right shoulder. Place the right hand gently on the left side of the head using just the weight of your hand (and little to no pressure) for resistance.  
  • Place the left hand on the floor, walking the fingertips away from you to intensify the stretch. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
  • Then, release the right hand, roll your head to the left, and repeat on that side.

#3 Child’s Pose With Blocks (Balasana)

a woman is practicing Child’s Pose_Balasana_shoulder yoga poses

Child’s Pose is a wonderful passive yoga stretch for the upper body. Optionally, use blocks or a meditation cushion to lift your arms off the ground to intensify the stretch for your shoulders. 

How to practice: 

  • Begin sitting on your knees, then fold your upper body forward into Child’s Pose.
  • If you choose to use blocks, place them in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Press your hands into the blocks with arms extended and hug the upper arm bones into the shoulder sockets to engage the shoulders on your back.
  • You may also place your elbows on the blocks and bend your arms, so your palms come together in prayer over or behind your head. After you’ve found the variation that works for you, relax your torso and forehead towards the ground.
  • Keep breathing deeply and hold the pose for 8 to 10 breaths. 

Want your practice to be even more relaxing and restorative? Try these yin yoga poses with a bolster (and Child’s Pose is one of them, too!)

#4 Eagle Arms (Garudasana Variation)

a woman is practicing Eagle Arms_Garudasana Variation_shoulder yoga poses

Because Eagle Arms deeply opens the posterior shoulders and engages the front of them, it is one of the most comprehensive yoga shoulder poses. Although it is most often utilized as a part of full Eagle Pose, for this purpose, you can skip the leg balancing and practice from a seated position.

How to practice: 

  • Begin in a seated position of your choice and stretch your arms out in front of you.
  • Cross your left arm over your right and touch your shoulder blades with opposite hands. 
  • Keeping the left elbow snuggling on top of the right, bring your forearms towards each other with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Press the backs of the hands firmly against each other, or cross the wrists and allow the palms to press towards each other. Lift your elbows and move the forearms away from your face to intensify the pose.
  • Keep your spine long and head lifted as you hold for 5-10 breaths, then release and repeat the same steps with the right arm on top. 

#5 Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana Variation)

a woman is practicing Cow Face Pose_Gomukhasana Variation_shoulder yoga poses

An effective shoulder-opening yoga flow will include Cow Face Pose, as it provides a fantastic stretch to the arms, shoulders, and upper back. Like our Eagle Pose variation, you can skip the leg component and focus solely on the arm placement for this shoulder sequence. 

How to practice: 

  • Begin in a seated position with your spine fully extended.
  • Raise the right arm towards the sky, then bend the elbow so the hand is at your upper back. Sit up well: extend the neck, lift the head, and keep your collar bones broad so there is no collapsing around the neck and shoulders. 
  • Bring your left arm behind your back and bend the elbow, reaching your left hand towards your right. Keep your head up and your shoulders back.
  • Do your best to clasp the hands together. Feel free to hold a yoga strap or a t-shirt with both hands to extend your reach.
  • Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths, then release. Repeat the same steps on the other side.

#6 Thread the Needle (Parsva Balasana)

a woman is practicing Thread the Needle_Parsva Balasana_shoulder yoga poses

Thread the Needle is one of the most effective shoulder yoga poses, as it provides a deep stretch for the entire back, including the posterior shoulders, where many feel the most pain. 

How to practice: 

  • Begin on your hands and knees in the Tabletop position.
  • Lift your left arm towards the ceiling, then slide it under the right arm. Bring the left shoulder and ear towards the ground and move the hand as far away from you as you can without straining. Press the back of the left hand strongly into the floor to keep the shoulder muscles active while you stretch, to help from collapsing into the neck. 
  • You can bend the right arm and keep the hand on the floor, extend it out in front of you, or place the hand on your lower back.
  • Hold the pose for 5 to 10 breaths; then slowly push yourself back up into the Tabletop and repeat on the other side.

10-Minute Shoulder Opening Yoga Sequence

Combine the poses above to practice a short sequence that will provide strength as well as a deep release to your shoulders. 

a chart with Shoulder Yoga Sequence_shoulder yoga poses
  1. Cat and Cow Pose – 1-2 minutes
  2. Child’s Pose with Blocks – 1-3 minutes
  3. Thread The Needle – 2 minutes (1 minute on either side)
  4. Ear To Shoulder Pose – 1 minute (30 seconds on either side)
  5. Eagle Arms – 1 minute (30 seconds on either side)
  6. Cow Face Pose – 1-2 minutes (30 seconds to 1 minute on either side)

Final Words

Many people struggle with shoulder pain, and yoga can be helpful for that. If you want to use shoulder yoga poses for tension relief, keep a couple of things in mind:

  • Practice poses that work on the shoulders as well as the whole upper body.
  • Create a shoulder-focused sequence to target the shoulders from all angles.
  • If you prefer to follow timed sequences, you can also use our yoga app and search for shoulder-related flows. 
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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