Texting, typing, scrolling, driving … hunched in front of a computer or curled up on the couch … Many of our daily activities involve sitting with our arms raised in front of the body. Over time, this “texting posture” causes the head and neck to creep forward, the shoulders and arms to turn inward. Nobody wants to end up with a hunched back, but with the many hours we spend sedentary in front of a screen, it’s no wonder many of us have tense, rounded shoulders.
There are many simple adjustments you can make to improve your postural alignment and the ergonomics of your work space. But by the time you’ve developed rounded shoulders, there is often a muscular imbalance that makes it difficult to hold yourself effortlessly in a well-aligned posture. Our bodies become accustomed to our physical habit patterns, perpetuating postural imbalances.
For example, people who sit at a computer all day tend to develop short, tight pectoralis muscles from holding their arms forward to type and click. Tightness in the pecs pulls the shoulders forward; weakness in the back muscles needed to stabilize the shoulder blades further contributes to the problem. A telltale sign of this muscular imbalance is when the shoulder blades “wing” out instead of laying flat against the back of your ribcage.
So how can we correct this imbalance? It helps to practice a regular routine that retrains rounded shoulders by releasing tight pec muscles, strengthening the back, and stabilizing the shoulder blades. This makes it easier to maintain healthy postural alignment and shoulder stability in weight-bearing poses like Downward Dog, Plank, and Crow Pose.
Try these 5 exercises every day for a week, and see if you notice any difference in the flexibility, openness, strength, and stability of your shoulders.
Begin lying on your back, arms resting in a T. Have your knees bent and your feet a little wider than your hips. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, letting the backs of your shoulders relax down toward the ground with each breath.
On an exhale, lower both knees to the right, allowing your left shoulder to peel away from the ground. Keeping both arms straight, rotate your entire left arm inward, lifting the left shoulder off the ground until the palm faces the floor.
Inhale here, then slowly release the contraction in your chest to lower your left shoulder to the ground. Lift your knees back up to center and take a full breath in neutral.
On your next exhale, lower your knees to the left, rotating the right arm inward this time. Take a full breath, then relax the right shoulder and bring your knees back to center. Do a few more reps, moving side to side slowly and mindfully.
2. Supine Eagle Arms
Lying on your back, reach your arms straight up to the ceiling. Cross your right arm over your left and give yourself a hug. As you inhale, breathe into the space between your shoulder blades; as you exhale, slowly release the contraction in your pecs and lower your arms out to a T. Repeat the hug and release with the left arm on top.
Reach your arms up to the ceiling, and cross your right arm over your left in an X shape. Keeping your elbows together, rotate your forearms so the palms turn to face each other. It’s OK if your palms don’t touch–just imagine your arms like twisting vines, and keep lifting up and out through the fingertips. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and breathe into the back body.
Untangle your arms and bring them back to parallel. Cross the left arm over the right and wrap again with the left arm on top.
3. Shoulder Stretch & “Lat Pulldown” with Yoga Strap
You’ll need a yoga strap or belt (a bathrobe belt works great in a pinch). Come to a comfortable seated position. Take your strap or belt in both hands and straighten your arms out at a 45-degree angle in front of you. Bring your hands a little wider than shoulder-distance apart on the strap.
On an inhale, lift the strap up and overhead. As you exhale bend your elbows and lower the strap, drawing your shoulder blades down your back and in toward your spine (similar to the motion of a lat pulldown).
Inhale and reach the arms back up; exhale, return to your starting position. Repeat for 3-5 reps.
4. Dolphin Pose
Come onto hands and knees with your shoulders above your wrists and hips above your knees. Lower yourself to your forearms, keeping them parallel. Spread your fingers.
Pressing your palms and forearms into the mat, curl your toes under and lift your hips up and back (à la Downward Facing Dog). Gaze back at your feet, allowing your head and neck to relax.
Keep rooting down through your forearms as you lift your hips and shoulders up and away from the ground. Take a few breaths here, lengthening the spine from the tailbone through the crown of your head.
5. Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Come to hands and knees, shoulders above your wrists and hips above your knees. Plant your left hand on the mat in front of your face. Place your left knee and shin in the same vertical line as your hand, keeping the left knee directly below the left hip.
Reach your right leg back and place the inner edge of your right foot on the ground. Engage your core and squeeze the left side waist as you open your torso and pelvis to face the right side of your mat. Bring your right hand to your hip and keep the right leg strong and active.
From the center of your chest, press down into your left hand and reach your right arm up to the ceiling–it’s almost as if you have just one long arm. Keep reaching out through the crown of your head and your right foot to maintain length in the spine.
You can stay here, or if your shoulders feel stable and you want to go further, push down into your left hand and straighten the left leg, planting the outer edge of your left foot on the ground and stacking your right leg on top. Keep lifting up with the top arm and squeezing the left side waist. Take 3-5 breaths, then come out of the pose by revolving into Plank Pose.
Repeat Side Plank facing the left side of your mat, with the right hand bearing your weight.
Do try these and let me know how you feel! 🙂
Also by Annika: 5 Yoga Stretches for Tight Lower Legs
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Photo: Annika Ihnat