Yoga Shoulder Openers - Top Poses for Shoulders and Upper Back

In light of the long hours most people spend sitting at a desk, no one should be without their own personal arsenal of shoulder stretches. Yoga shoulder openers can be a godsend at the end of the day when your neck, shoulders and upper back feel tight and achy. Lucky reader, we've put together a list of the best yoga poses for shoulders right here. 

Why You Should Do Yoga Shoulder Openers

If you have a regular yoga practice, or even if you don't, it's a good idea to practice shoulder opening yoga poses on the daily. Your shoulders are a complex joint, called a ball-and-socket joint. With certain repetitive activities (like hunching over a desk) and with age, shoulder mobility can become a sticky situation (no pun intended). Lack of shoulder mobility can make injuring the shoulder joint easier. Tight shoulders can also put strain on the neck and upper back, which can be a real pain! 

Extended Child's Pose (Balasana) With Blocks

Not only is extended child's post a great yoga pose for opening the shoulders, but it's also really relaxing! Try this one after a long day for a little ahhhh-mazing shoulder stretch. You'll need two yoga blocks for this, but you could also use some books of equal size. Just make sure your hands are level with each other because you don't want to develop any imbalances.

How to do it:

Position your blocks at their lowest height at the top of your mat about shoulder-width apart. 

Sit back onto your heels with your knees spread apart enough that you can fit your torso between them. 

Fold forward and reach for a block with either hand. Extend your arms fully, scooting your hips back if you need to to get full extension. 

Slowly begin to work your torso down closer to the floor and push your hips back and down. Reach your forehead toward the floor, but avoid straining your neck (it's OK if it doesn't reach the floor). 

Continue to extend through your arms and spine, as you feel the stretch through your chest and shoulders deepen. 

Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, then release. 

"You'll likely notice that one side is easier than the other. We all have these types of imbalances in our bodies. With time and practice you will find your flexibility evens out."

Reverse Prayer Pose (Paschim Namaskarasana)

This is a difficult pose for many people because it requires openness through the chest, shoulders and wrists. But there's no reason you need to achieve the full pose right now, so work your way up with the modification at the end of the this section. 

How to do it:

Stand up or sit on your heels to start. Extend your arms out to the side, inhale and open your chest. Bring both arms around your back, bending your elbows and rotating your forearms outward.

Bring your fingertips together, then bring your palms together as much as possible. Your fingertips will point up toward the ceiling. 

Work your palms closer together and slide them up your spine until they are between the bottom of your shoulder blades. 

Hold for 30 seconds, then release. 

Modification: Instead of bringing your palms together, simply grab opposite forearms or elbows - whatever your current level of flexibility allows. 

Caution: Never force this yoga shoulder opener beyond your flexibility threshold. The shoulders are one of the easiest joints to strain, and you do not want to have to recover from a shoulder injury!

Seated Eagle Arms (Garudasana)

This pose stretches the deltoid muscles at the back of the shoulders and the upper back. This can also be a tough one for some people to achieve the full pose, so just go as far as you are able. 

How to do it:

Sit in a crosslegged position with your spine erect and your head, shoulders and hips aligned over one another. 

Raise your arms out in front of you and cross your right arm over your left. Bend both elbows and wrap your forearms so that your palms are facing each other. Don't worry if you can't completely press your palms together.

Press your shoulders back and down and keep your spine erect as you hold the pose for 30 seconds. Then, switch sides, wrapping the left arm over the right. 

Note: You'll likely notice that one side is easier than the other. We all have these types of imbalances in our bodies. With time and practice you will find your flexibility evens out. 

"Tight shoulders can also put strain on the neck and upper back, which can be a real pain! "

Thread the Needle Pose (Parsva Balasana)

This is another effective yoga shoulder opener to stretch the deltoids and upper back. It's also a nice twist that can help improve spine health.

How to do it: 

Begin on all fours in tabletop with your shoulders aligned directly over your wrists and your hips aligned over your knees.

Lift your right hand up and slide your arm under your left shoulder, palm facing up. 

Rest your right shoulder and ear on the ground, Keep your hips aligned over your knees, and slide your left palm forward on your mat. 

Hold here for 30 seconds, then return to the starting position and switch sides. 

woman wearing purple and blue marble print yoga leggings by pixibu apparel while doing dhanurasana bow pose yoga shoulder stretch

Camel Pose (Ustrasana)

Camel pose is a backbending pose that is more accessible to practitioners who are not able to do a full wheel pose, or those who find bow pose (in the next section) difficult or uncomfortable. Like all backbends, it stretches the entire front body, opening the chest and shoulders, as well as the front hips, and quadriceps. 

Assuming the full pose can be quite challenging for beginners, so proceed in steps. Modifications are offered below. 

How to do it: 

Stand on your knees and separate your lower legs about hip-distance. Align your hips over your knees and be sure to maintain this alignment throughout the pose. 

Bring your arms around your back and place your palms on either side of your lower back, fingers pointing down. Roll your shoulders back and down. 

Inhale and open your chest. Pushing your hands into your lower back, begin to extend your spine up and back as you press your hip points forward. 

Bend backwards as far as you can without losing the alignment of your hips and knees. 

To take the pose further, drop one hand and then the other down to grasp your heels. Let your head drop back to look at the wall behind you without straining. 

Hold for 30 seconds then slowly release by bringing your hands back to your hips and slowly straightening your spine.

Come into child's pose for a few seconds of rest.

Modification: Of course, the first modification is just not to come down all the way and stay with your hands on your back. But a good midway point is to start the pose with your toes curled under. That elevates your heels so the reach is not as far at the peak of the pose. 

Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)

Bow pose is a more intense version of camel pose. This shoulder opener requires increased flexibility in the front body to achieve the full pose, but there are modifications for those who aren't quite there yet. 

How to do it:

Begin lying face down on your mat. Bend your knees and reach your heels toward your glutes. Reach your right hand back and grasp your foot or your ankle, if flexibility allows. Then reach back with your left hand and grasp your left foot or ankle. 

On an inhale, pull against your feet and lift your chest and thighs off the floor coming into a bow shape. Continue to push your feet into your hands and keep your neck straight and gaze forward.

If your flexibility allows, draw your knees and ankles to touch. 

Hold here for 30 seconds, then release. 

Modification: If you are not yet able to grasp both feet without a lot of undue struggle, don't sweat it. You can start with half bow, in which you do one side at a time. Reach the right hand back for the right ankle, and stretch upward while keeping your left side dormant. Then switch sides. 

You can also use a yoga strap. Wrap the strap around your ankles before you get into the pose. Hold one end in either hand as you lift up into the pose. 

"I guarantee that if you work to improve your posture, you'll experience less pain and stiffness and you'll find getting into these yoga shoulder openers much easier."

Prevent Tight Shoulders and Upper Back with Good Posture

Poor posture is a major contributor to tight shoulders and chest muscles, as well as back problems. I guarantee that if you work to improve your posture, you'll experience less pain and stiffness and you'll find getting into these yoga shoulder openers much easier.

Good posture means different things for different people. Some people tend to slouch, with their shoulders rolling forward. In this case, you need to pull the shoulders back and down, keep the neck long and the chin parallel to the ground as much as possible. Most people will benefit from moving their head backward a bit instead of allowing it to jut out. 

Some people tend to overarch the mid-back, letting their stomach stick out excessively. In this case, you need to tighten your core muscles, pull your stomach in, and lengthen your spine. 

Many people will exhibit both types of poor posture. While it seems like a lot of work to fix it, if you start noticing your posture throughout the day and make these adjustments, it will become second nature over time. 

I like to think of good posture as a yoga pose I do throughout the day. I stay mindful when I'm sitting at my desk or in my car, or standing up. Just like anything else, you need to practice it regularly to make it a habit. 

This article was written by PIXIBU founder Jody Braverman, RYT200, NASM-CPT. Read more about her and PIXIBU here. If you found this post helpful, why not share it on social so others can benefit? And, if you'd like more content like this delivered to your inbox, then be sure to subscribe to our email newsletter by dropping your email address in the box below.

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