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Season 2 - Episode 3

Shoulder Deepening

45 min - Practice


With the help of props, Nathan guides us in a practice to find deep opening in the shoulders and chest. You will feel a deep sense of awareness and spaciousness.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket, Strap, Block

About This Video

Jan 08, 2019
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Welcome, nice to have you here with us. This is our first practice of the new season and we'll be starting off deepening our experience of the shoulder and chest work we did in season one. I'm going to start in Virasana and I'm sitting up on one yoga block and I'm choosing this pose because it gives an automatic lift to the spine. So we'll start here and just do a little bit of centering. I'll have you stretch down through your sitting bones to raise the sides of the trunk up and we'll start to get that chest opening that's inherent in this pose.

Roll the shoulders back and begin to help supporting open the chest, broadening the collar bones and we'll bring the palms together and the length of the thumbs of the sternum. We gently press the thumbs into the sternum and roll those thumbs up and that really helps complete the openness of the chest. Take a few moments to close your eyes and bring your attention inside. In our first season, we started developing a deeper and deeper awareness of our physical body and this season we'll start to explore even more and the various things we notice in our thoughts and inner experience. Allow your attention to drop down into the spaciousness of the chest and notice that quiet open stillness.

From that space I say Namaste, welcome, please open your eyes and relax your hands down and we'll start our chest opening work lying on our side. So we'll start with the knees tucked up about 90 degrees, arms straight out in front and we'll lift the top arm and bring it right on back to begin opening up the chest. We're going to let gravity do most of the work here so you can relax your fingers, relax the arms, the elbow, bring some focus to your breathing and noticing your physical body, how the arms are placed, is anything grabbing your attention asking you to move or adjust? Please do take those cues and explore different possibilities. And then from this position we're going to grab the top foot for a bit of a quad stretch.

You can bring the arm above your head to support and then we'll take the top leg back. This is going to begin further opening up the chest, opening up the hips and so again I'm using that breath to help explore where any tension is where the body could maybe open up a little bit further. And then release and let go. We'll do the second side. Starting on our side with the knees bent up at about 90 degrees, arms straight out in front of the chest, we'll take the top arm up and exhale into our twist.

Again we're going to let gravity do most of the work for us so we're learning to let go, allowing the spine to get its twist, shoulders to drop. It's quite common to feel a noticeable stretch along the chest in this pose. Scan through your body and look for any tension that doesn't need to be there. And then we'll bring it to close and we'll once again grab the top ankle, stretch your lower arm out to support your head and we'll bring the leg back. We're opening up the front of the top leg hip socket as well as rolling the top shoulder back to open the chest and begin to bring the middle spine in.

Some nice breaths to help you explore and then we'll release and come into a hands and knees position. Your good friend cat and cow to help mobilize the spine, exhale spine goes up, inhale spine down, exhale spine up and inhale spine down. Take a few more on your own and start to feel from your tailbone, low back, middle back, all the way between the shoulders that every piece is getting a touch of the movement. And one more. We'll come to the middle and separate the knees out about the width of the mat and slide the big toes together.

We'll bring the right hand just below the chest and the left hand to the forehead. Push down your right arm and start to turn the chest up to the sky and then release, turn the chest back to the floor. We're going to bring arm to arm for just a moment, reset and open again, pressing down on the bottom arm to help roll the chest open. The top arm draws back and we'll bring it down for one more, pressing down on the bottom arm to get that nice strength to the right shoulder blade and then we turn it open. Let's do the second side.

Left hand just below the center of the chest, back of the right hand against the forehead. Push down on the left arm and we're turning. Turn the chest toward the floor. We'll reset arm to arm and again, take a few breaths. The breath again is what helps you start to explore in the body and see where any unnecessary tension overdoing or underdoing might be present.

We'll do one more. Inhale up and then release. From here, I'm going to use the block again to rest in Virasana while we explore a few deeper poses. Our first is going to be Bujangulyasana arms where we interlace the fingers and stretch up. As you draw your arms up in this pose, first, let's draw the elbows in closer and closer to the ears.

This has a nice effect of bringing the awareness down into what we call the side chest. When the elbows bend out to the side, the chest tends to collapse. Let's see if we can take our map into the chest by squeezing the elbows in and start to open up the space in the chest. Then we'll bring the arms down in front and turn the palms to face and then we'll change the finger interlock by sliding the other fingers on top. Once again, invert the arms and take the arms up.

Our first step again is to draw the elbows in close, the upper arm bones in close, and we try to do this without pinching the shoulders up into the ears. Elbows in, upper arm bones in, and our third is to roll the thumb side of the hand up. This is what really begins to draw open the chest. And then bring it down and we'll relax the shoulders. Our next step is Gomukhasana arms.

I'm going to turn the other way so you get a really good view of how the shoulders work here. I'll use the block again and let me just quickly mention that if the knees don't tolerate this level of depth of folding, you can always raise up the seat if you need to. Our first step in Gomukhasana will be to take the right arm behind the back, no strap or no upper arm yet. We'll just start right here. I'm going to press the back of my right hand into the back so that I can begin to roll the shoulder back.

Let's differentiate that from pulling the elbow back. I press the back of the hand into the back and I move the shoulder back. And you can watch the tattoo too to see that direction of motion. As I roll the shoulder back, the shoulder blade should press into the upper back and we get the effect into the chest that we're looking for. So we're pulsing this action one more time.

We'll let that go and switch hands. Take the left hand behind and begin to push the back of the hand into the back and then we're going to roll that left shoulder back. The elbow more or less stays put. Press the hand, shoulder back. Press the hand shoulder back and see if you can move the awareness into the motion that happens in the chest.

Two more. Press the hand, shoulder back. One more. Press the hand and shoulder back. From here, we're going to do the full expression of the pose and it's very helpful to have a strap for this.

If the arms won't clasp behind. So I'll take my strap here and take the strap over for the clasping effect. I'm not too interested in getting my hands all the way together because I really want to explore the motion of the shoulder first. I'll put a little tension on the strap by pulling my hand slightly apart and then I'm going to work the same right arm action. Shoulder back, shoulder blade into the upper back and now the upper arm.

We'll draw back and up. We'll reset and do it one more time. I'm going to press my right hand into the back, roll the shoulder back. I can feel that right chest opening. Now for the left.

Arm comes up and back and then we'll release. And do the second side. Right arm is holding the strap now. Left hand clasped behind. First work, I push the hand into the back and begin to roll the left shoulder back.

I put a little tension on the strap and now the right arm will begin to work. Up and back. And if you watch, as I do the work with the arms and the right arm goes back, you see the chest start to open. And then release and we'll let go. We won't need the strap anymore so let's put that off to the side and we can also put the block off to the side.

Our next pose will be one more in the kneeling position. I'm going to start here, take the hands behind you on the floor, begin to push down through your arms to raise the chest up. And then release, come back to start. And we'll do that one more time. Take the hands back.

And more specifically this time, we're looking to take the middle of the spine a little deeper into the body. Not so much jut the ribs forward, but take the mid-back in. And then we'll release. Let's come down off the legs for just a few minutes. We'll straighten out the legs and squeeze the quad muscles to help refresh the knees.

And then our next pose will be a bent knee pose, a unique pose for the shoulders. We're going to start bringing the backs of the hands together in front of us. And then begin to roll the hands into the body and thread them through the space between the legs and torso. And our legs become the worker in this pose where we gently start to close the legs toward one another to bring a nice stretch to some of the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. You don't have to push or go fast with this at all.

And then we'll relax, take the arms out, and we'll go again. Backs of the hands coming into one another. Elbows are just inside the knees. We thread the hands through, and then the little gentle pressure to bring the elbows closer together. Relax the back, bring space in the shoulder blade muscles, and then release.

From here we'll come up into a kneeling lunge. Left leg forward, right leg back. We'll stretch the arms out to the sides, take a breath in, exhale, turn toward the left side. Let's take a few breaths to pulse a little deeper. On inhale we'll go deeper.

Exhale relax a little. Inhale go deeper. Exhale soften a little. One more. Go deeper, and exhale soften.

Second side. Right leg is forward, left leg back, stretch the arms out across the room, and once again we'll turn to the right side. Take a breath in to go deeper. Exhale to relax a little, inhale. Exhale to relax a little, and one more.

Inhale, and exhale, bring it to center. We'll take a bent knee downward facing dog. Lift up. The bent knees allows the hips to relax so we're not fighting against the tension of the hamstrings and hip muscles. This allows the pelvis to turn quite well and gives us full access to the space in the chest.

Press your hands very well down into the mat so you can feel your shoulder blades contacting your upper back, and then we'll take that space, and then from here walk forward, feet about hip width, and we'll work our way into ragdoll for just a few breaths. Soft hips, catch your elbows, and hang down. Low easy breaths, relaxing your back, relax your head and neck. And then from here let's place the hands on the knees, lift your chest for just a moment, let the blood settle down, and we'll come up to standing. Let's take tadasana, feet together, thighs back a little and pressing down on those heels so we can start to feel the inner lift in the body.

See if you can connect that map from heels all the way up to the chest, pressing down through the heels, spine up. Let's take a minute to explore the arms in tadasana and how they affect the chest. If you'll stretch your arms out to the sides, let's do this together where we roll the biceps forward and see what happens to the chest. Let's come back to kind of a neutral position, and this time we'll roll the biceps over the top back. And as we do that, notice again what starts to happen.

Rest the arms. We'll try it one more time. Arms out, and we'll start with the biceps coming forward, shoulder blades roll up the back toward the neck, the chest caves, and come back to neutral. This time we'll turn the biceps over the top and behind us, and we feel the shoulder blades go down and into the upper back, and that brings that space into the chest. So we'll be working with a few poses standing here, starting with some work with the block in tadasana.

So I'll start with the block, long way in the hand, so the palm covers the side of the block. You don't want to hold here, but with the palm on the block. Once again, tadasana, thighs back, press the heels in the floor, and we'll have a 90-degree bend in the elbows. We'll take the elbows over the top, block behind us, and we'll pull several times, pulling the block back, and softening. Inhale, pull the block back, and soften.

Try to do this without pressing forward with your lower ribs, but instead, working on bringing the middle spine just a little further in. Let's do two more like that, inhale, exhale, inhale, and exhale. Just bring the arms down, and I'll give you another view of this from the other side. Same work, palm covers the tall side of the block, arms up 90 degrees. Pressing down through the heels, thighs back, and we'll do the work.

Inhale, elbows go straight back, so we begin to feel those middle back muscles. Soften a little, inhale, exhale. Feel the shoulder blades pressing into that upper back, giving us the space in the chest. Three more. And one more, upper arms back, and bring it down and rest.

One more quick shot of this in front so that you can see, as I draw my elbows back, there's a tendency for them to want to widen out to the sides. So we want to keep them right narrow, just above the shoulders, and we'll do that together in hold, press the palms on the block, feeling the shoulder blades against the upper back, and then release. From here, we'll use that same technique with the block in chair pose. We'll take the block straight up overhead and squeeze the elbows in, keeping the elbows nice and strong. Breath in, exhale, and sitting back.

This is a challenge for those arms to stay strong and straight, but this is what helps us open up the chest. Come out, arms down, let's roll the shoulders. I can definitely feel the heat and no shoulder muscles. Bring it all the way up, pressing the palms against the block. Breath in, elbows in, exhale.

For three, two, and one, come out, and we'll do one more. Roll the shoulders, and last one. Press the block straight up off the head, squeeze the elbows in, big breath, and exhaling your way in. Let's take a few breaths while we're here, and come out and release. We'll put the block to the side, and we'll start a few more standing poses.

First will be a wide leg stance for warrior pose, warrior two. We'll take the arms up overhead and clasp the elbows. Go to the right side first, so left toes in, right leg out, big breath in, exhale, nice and deep into your warrior pose. We'll inhale and take the arm clasp toward the back leg, and come out, and again, and come out, inhale for space, and come out. Let's extend the arms and hold the pose, turn and look over the right arm, and then rest.

Bring it to center. Relax your arms. We'll leave the legs wide, right toes a little in, left leg out, and then stretch the arms right over the top of the head, clasp. Big breath in, exhale, and then let's go for our side bend. Exhale over to the right, exhale.

Inhale for space, exhale. One more. Inhale opening, and exhale coming out. Nice tall chest, expand the arms, take advantage of all that space. We'll hold the pose, and out we come.

Bring the legs all the way together, stand for a moment in Tadasana. Let the body recover. In our first season, we started to explore feeling the various openings that would happen in the body. Let's see what else we feel. If there's fatigue in the muscle, if there's a part of the body that said, hey, what happened in the pose?

Start to notice those things as well. That's what helps us adjust our practice. For our next poses, we're going to use the strap for a little bit of help, and we'll start it out in triangle pose. Take a nice wide leg stance, and the strap we're going to take behind the body. Now if you can clasp the hands together fully and get the shoulders back, you won't need the strap, but that's quite challenging to do.

So we'll take about a hips-width grip on the strap, turn the legs out to the right side. Big breath in, roll the shoulders back, and we'll begin to extend to the right side. As you're going, and I'm taking my time here to get into the pose, I want to keep the shoulder open, I use the strap to help me do that. Pulling the hands out on the strap, there we go. So we're steady, holding the chest open, and then inhale, come up.

Take a little pause. We're going to stay on this side. Here we go, shoulders back, big breath in, exhale. Take your time so you keep that top shoulder, the left shoulder, stays open. I'm pulling gently out on the strap, and we're in the pose.

Feeling the shoulders stay open, the chest open, we're going to do this very skillfully now. Ease off the tension on the hands, we'll let the strap down, and come into the full pose. And then inhale, come up, you can bring the strap with you. We'll do the second side. Strap behind the body, opening up.

Right toes a little in, left leg out, about a hip width grip on the strap, just roll that right shoulder back. Big breath in, exhale, and take your time. Take your time so you feel the top chest stay open. Holding, chest is open, rolling up, shoulders back, and then come up. So without the support of that arm, the legs get quite a workout here as we learn into the chest.

One more time, open chest, and exhaling into the pose. Chest is open, top shoulder rolling back. Feel those shoulder blades support open your chest. Very skillfully we'll keep the chest as open as it is, top shoulder back, and we can find the full pose. You're always welcome to take your bottom hand on your ankle if you'd like a little higher support.

Then inhale, bring the strap, and come up. Walk the legs together for mountain pose, and see how you're doing. See what you notice, the goods, and if there's anything else, the bads we'll call them talking to you that need a little adjusting. For parsvokanasana, I'm going to put the strap to the side. You can choose to continue to use the strap.

I'll start by interlacing the fingers, or if you're holding the strap, you can keep hold of that. Left toes in, right leg out. Big breath in, exhale, bend the right knee, and rolling that shoulder back. I can feel in my body the tendency is to want to go this way toward the floor, so I've got to keep my mind there. I'm holding.

Then with the chest staying open, we'll do a slow release of the hands so the chest doesn't spring rolling forward to the ground, and let's complete the pose. And then inhale, coming up, we'll do the second side. Start with a clasp, right toes in, left leg out, chest is open. Big breath in, exhale, keep the chest nice and open, I'll resist that tendency to fall, keep the chest open, chest open, chest open, there we go. Holding the chest, holding the right shoulder back, and then nice and softly, we'll try to release without losing that depth.

Right arm up and over, and then come out. Bend the feet in, just to pause in tadasana to feel, and then one more here. Wide legs, not quite as wide as before, and we're going to turn off to the right side for a half moon pose. So I'll bend the knee and place the hand, start to lift up. There's the half moon, now the bonus work for the chest.

Top leg is going to bend, I'm going to hunt for, there it is, that ankle. I catch, bringing the leg back to open the chest. It takes the balance, and working with the mind and awareness, and then I'll gently release and come out. Let's do the second side. Bend the left knee, take the left hand out to the side for support, and start to find the way up.

Turn open the hips, and then we'll go for the top leg bending, and capture that heel. Roll the hips up, and press the right foot back away from the hips. And then release, and come back up to tadasana. And let's see how the chest and arms feel after that series of standing poses. Stretch out the arms, and see if you can get a feeling difference inside the chest, inside the arms.

Is there a little bit more flow of awareness and energy there than when we started? And then we'll release, and take a little ragdoll for rest. Off knees, capture the elbows, and hang down. And let's take a dog pose. And we'll take a full dog pose this time as the body's warmed up, and we can get a little deeper into the hips.

And from here, we can take advantage of all the space in the chest, and turn the dog over. Flip the dog, they call it. And so we'll bring the feet right to the middle, and step the left leg just over and behind the right. We'll start to turn the body up toward the sky, and press well with my right hand on the floor, left arm up, and left arm over. And we'll bring the arm up and out, turn it back to center.

Let's take the dog pose again, reorganize, and then feet to the middle. I'll step the right leg just behind the left, make contact with the floor, and start to turn the body over. And push down with that left arm to help open up the chest, and we'll take the top arm over. And then we'll bring it out, and find our way back into a dog pose for just a moment. And let's get them down into a child's pose.

You can rest your forehead on your arms. We'll walk our way up to a kneeling position. Our next pose we'll do from kneeling, it's called parigrasana, gate pose. We'll start with the right leg out, and it's helpful to turn the right toes a little bit forward, otherwise you might feel a little pinching back here in the back of the ankle. We'll start with an intermediate version, and work on some of the techniques there.

We'll start with the arms out, palms up, take a breath in, and we're folding over the right hip, and taking the right hand down. So here I use my right arm to help turn open the chest, and bring the right side chest a little forward. And I'm working on softening the right groin, so the folding can take place. We try our best to keep more or less vertical in the standing leg, the left leg in this case, and then we'll inhale our way out. Bring the legs together, we'll do the second side, left leg out, toes turned a little forward, arms out, palms up, inhale and exhale over to the side.

I push down the left hand to find the left shoulder blade, rolling the chest forward, left chest forward, and then inhale and come up, and we'll do the first side at a deeper level if you'd like. Right leg out, toes a little bit forward, arms stretched out, turn the palms up, just like Tadasana, big breath in, and then exhale, slowly out, we're working the back of the right hand toward the right shin, pause there, softening at the right groin so that folding can happen. And using my right shoulder blade to keep on moving, right chest forward, we'll take it as far as your body says it's okay to go today. And then inhale, come up carefully, legs back to kneeling, we'll do the second side. Left leg out, toes a little turned forward, arms out, palms up, big breath in, exhaling over to the second side.

Bring the back of the left hand to the shin, I work on softening into the left groin so the fold can happen, turning the left chest forward, and slowly making my way into the pose. Pausing every so often to feel, where's my chest going, am I gripping up in the left leg hip, how can I melt my way into the pose? And we'll come out, and come to a seated position. Side legs. This pose is very similar to gate pose, parigrasana, just has a few different mechanics working for it.

And the way we're going to do this to understand how the folding occurs is to bend the left leg. It's typically shown with both legs straight, and we'll get there, but this gives us a better feeling of how to do this. The reason for the bent leg is it helps us lift the left sitting bone off the ground. That's what gives us the tilting to the side. Let's start doing that by pulling the left toes off, lifting up off that buttock bone, and bringing the right forearm down.

I gently push on that heel to tilt my pelvis over the right leg. If possible, you might try to clasp the foot, notice it's thumb down. We'll take the other arm up, here again I'm working my right chest forward, and maybe the left arm over to catch the foot. We can complete the pose by sneaking the other leg out, all the while keeping that left hip bone a little off the ground, and we're in the pose. Come out slow and careful, and then we'll do the other side.

Right leg bent up, toes off the ground, right buttock bone off the ground. Left forearm down, and I'm already starting to turn the chest forward. I'll slide that left hand out, turn the thumb down, and if the catch is possible I'll do it. Then I push on that heel, the right heel, to help tilt the body further to the left. Top arm up, and over.

And then I'll complete the pose by sneaking the right leg out with that little pressure that keeps the right buttock bone off the ground, and we'll come out. Some deep poses, use the hands to bring the legs in, simple cross legs, and coming forward. You can rest down on the forearms, work to release the tension in the hips and the back. And then coming up, turn yourself over the left knee, and we'll gently rest the trunk down over the left. And then coming up, and we'll turn over the right.

And then coming back to center, slide down for just a moment. Here we'll cross the legs, and just rest on the floor. If you like, you can add to that by catching the elbows over your head. This pose helps to relax the spine and soften the hips. And then we'll bring the arms down, knees together, and we'll take a supported bridge pose, and I'll suggest using the block for the support at the highest level if you can, placed narrow ways underneath the sacrum and tailbone.

And we can use the mat to gently hold on to help us roll the shoulders underneath the back. And all of this work we've been doing to help open up the chest, to help draw the mid-back a little deeper in, so here we are. Let's just take a few breaths here, and let the body find its way into the pose. Gently press the shoulder bones down into the floor to further open up the chest, and draw the mid-back a little in. And then we'll add the lift of one leg to further the inversion, and we'll draw the left leg into the chest without collapsing the chest, and then extend straight up, and shoulders still pressing the ground to hold open the chest, mid-back in, and then release, and we'll do the second side, right leg in, and then extend straight up.

And then place the foot down, lift the hips, we'll take the block away, set the block off to the side, and I'll recommend a nice folded blanket for behind the head and neck, and blanket can come right up to the tops of the shoulders. We'll adjust the shoulder blades just slightly underneath to help hold open all that space that we've made in the chest, and then slowly extend the legs one by one. Relax the energy in the legs so the feet fall wide, relaxing in the hip joints, and relax the lumbar, soften around the shoulders, and let your energy withdraw from the periphery towards the center. You can let your awareness and attention settle in the center of your chest, and notice the movement of your breath, and notice what kind of freedom is there for the movement of the ribs and lungs. All right.

Thank you. Thank you. And I invite you to stay as long as you like in your shavasana. When you're ready to come out, you can rest your hands, one on the chest, one on the tummy. And one by one, we'll bend the knees and turn softly over to your right side.

Rest there for just a moment. And then before you come up, roll a little further to the ground and then press your way up to sitting. If you'd like to use the blanket as a little support for sitting, bring it underneath the hips. Simple cross legs. You can rest your hands on your thighs and close your eyes.

And I invite you to notice all the things that are happening. What's the energy of thought right now? What sensations is your body sharing with you? Just to notice them. Thank you very much for being here with this and this practice today.

Look forward to seeing you again soon. Namaste.


Kate M
2 people like this.
Creating space. Perhaps that what the spiritual project is all about! "Space is the architecture of compassion." (Richard Freeman)
M Angela C
2 people like this.
Thanks Nathan for sharing your wisdom and this practice. My “wing span” grew about 4 inches or more and there was more space for my breath. I could feel the energy within me at the end of the practice - my cells felt alive. Many 🙏
Christel B
1 person likes this.
That created such a keen awareness of my shoulders and upper back areas. I keep wanting to fold those wings toward the midline throughout the day.
Brenda S
1 person likes this.
Thank you! It he stretches hit the spots that needed opening. I enjoyed your pace, and held some stretches longer. Peace
Nathan Briner
Brenda S those are some of my favorite shoulder stretches. I’m glad you enjoyed them as well :)
Brenda S
1 person likes this.
Hi Nathan, decided to do this practice again because I just got finished with two hours of cutting wood and using a chainsaw. I love the exercise where you kneel and lean back on your hands. It really opened up my forearms. I applied the strength and alignment lessons to this lesson and found that I get more stability. And, from the strength and alignment class, I didn’t realize how much we were tightening our quadriceps, until I got up this morning. My body thanks you. Namaste
Nathan Briner
Brenda S, that is really awesome that you combined the lessons!!! I’m with you on the shoulder stretch you mention. Feels great on the chest and arms. 
I’m excited to hear what else you discover in your class combinations 😃
Brittany M
1 person likes this.
Hi Nathan I just have one question. My shoulders roll forward extremely bad. When I was younger ages 13 thru 19 I tried to hide my upper body until my breast reduction at 19. I’ve never noticed how bad they were until I started stretching and working them. Are there alterations to poses that you do. Some of them are difficult for me but I want the opening effect from the poses. Thank you kindly for your time and wonderful class!! Light and Love
Nathan Briner
Brittany M, sorry for the delay in replying. Yes, there are modifications we can try to help give you more access to these poses. 
Can you help me by telling me which poses are giving you trouble? 
Also, it is my common experience that the shoulders may not be the prime problem. Rather it is a stiff spine and rib cage that restrict the shoulders from full movement. That said, let me know which poses we should take a look at and I’ll send some tips to make them more accessible :)
1 person likes this.
Thank you Nathan, for the time and dedication you have put into becoming the yoga teacher you are today. This class felt like the September rain we so enjoy here in Spain.
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