Yoga with Injuries Artwork
Season 1 - Episode 6

Safe, Strong Shoulders

30 min - Practice


Move towards Ustrasana (Camel pose) in this well-rounded class you can do if you have a shoulder injury that is aggravated by raising your arms overhead. Olivia demonstrates how to make a "harness" out of a strap to stabilize the shoulders in a series of standing poses that challenge our leg and hip strength and balance, and open the chest and upper back in Garudasana (Eagle) arms, twists, and Ustrasana, with and without the support of our harness. You will feel open and relaxed.
What You'll Need: Mat, Strap, Block (2)


Read Full Transcript

Hi and welcome. This practice is for you if you have a shoulder or two that cause you some grief when you lift the arm above the shoulder. So we'll be keeping the arms below that level today. Let's start lying on blocks. I'll take one block high for your head and another one medium and widest width for the thoracic area near the bottom tips of the shoulder blades. Lying back, adjusting with your hands so that you do take that medium height block to the bottom tips of the shoulder blades and then you can tuck the shoulder blades a little together and turn the palms up at your sides. The other block supports your head and then you can close your eyes and allow the shoulders to release down into the space between the blocks. Allow your legs to be heavy here, abdomen soft, receptive to the in-breath, let the belly expand and to the out-breath, let the belly soften down and wide. Letting go also across the chest, the pectoral muscles, releasing your outer shoulders and outer upper arms down. So there's a sense that the biceps beginning to roll out a little bit with the palms facing the ceiling here. Another deep breath in and long smooth exhale out. To come up, you can firm your belly a little bit, place your fingertips behind your head, lift your head and then press down through your hands and come up off of the blocks. And we'll use them to sit in Virasana and twist. So if Virasana is not in your practice, you could sit in a different seated position like cross-legged. Otherwise the block right between your ankles and have a seat with the other block behind your right foot. Take a breath in, tall through the crown of the head, exhale, twist, right hand on the block behind you and left hand on the right leg. Spread the collarbones, draw the bottom tips of the shoulder blades together. And if you like, you can turn the left arm out and put the back of the hand on the right leg, which will help further roll the bicep out on the left arm. Turning your head to look over the right shoulder, roll that bicep out as well. As the biceps roll out, collarbones spread. As the triceps roll in, bottom tips of the shoulder blades also come inwards towards the spine. Tall through the spine, in breath, exhale, release, and move your block behind the left foot. Take a moment, feel. And second side, inhale, tall spine, exhale, twist left. Placing the right hand on your left thigh, left hand behind on the block, you can bend the elbow, roll the shoulder back, and then maybe turn the right arm out, pressing the back of the right hand against your left thigh, both collarbones spreading, both biceps rolling out, triceps turning inwardly. Every inhale, a tall spine, every exhale, you can twist a little bit more. Inhale, exhale, unwind. Feel here, take a breath in and out. And let's come up off of the block. You'll make your way to hands and knees. For cat and cow, hands are on the blocks, blocks shoulder distance apart, knees beneath the hips. Turning the arms out, the hands can turn out on the block, so fingers are draped over the outside of the blocks, but thumbs over the inside. Inhale, releasing the mid spine, spine down, glance forward. Exhale, round the spine, look back towards your knees, firm the belly. Inhale, glancing gently forward with the eyes, but more importantly, a sense of the chest lifting as the mid spine descends. And exhale again, firming the abdomen, tailbone releases down, spread your shoulder blades, press the blocks. Inhale, releasing the spine, coiling it into the chest. And exhale, round dome the back. Inhale neutral spine, long spine, and then step the right foot forward inside the block on the right. Tuck the left toes under and straighten the left leg, pressing the left thigh up. If this becomes too much, you can always put your left knee back down. Drawing the outer right hip back towards the left heel. Inhale the chest forward, exhale, firm the belly up, and then raise your arms, palms face the floor, arms back. Now here, spread the collarbones again. Bottom tips of the shoulder blades, seek one another, and then pulse the arms up. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Open the arms wide like you have wings. Revolve the arms so the palms face forward, thumbs are up, and pulse. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Lower the left palm to the block, twist, open the right arm up to the ceiling. Inhale, exhale, right hand down as well, step back to plank. Pause and plank for a breath cycle, firming the belly up, lengthen the buttocks to the heels, and then lightly lower your knees and step your left foot forward. Straighten the right leg, thigh up, thigh strong. Draw your outer left hip towards the right heel, reach the chest forward, firm the lower belly up towards the lower back, and take the arms back. Again, palms face down, roll the outer shoulders up, draw the bottom tips of the shoulders together, bottom tips of the shoulder blades together and pulse. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Airplane arms, arms wide, turn the arms, palms face forward, thumbs are up, and pulse up. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one. Releasing the right hand to the block, lift your left arm, take a twist. And then from here, lower your left arm down, step the right foot forward, feet hip distance apart, bring your blocks out in front of you, or you could take fingertips to the floor, ardha uttanasana. Reaching your chest forward, draw your shoulder blades back, firm in the legs, hands on your hips, elbows to the ceiling, inhale and slowly stand, exhale, release your arms down, tadasana. Okay, now taking your strap, you can set your blocks aside for a moment, and we'll use the strap to make a shoulder harness. You open your strap wide, and you're going to place it kind of like you're putting on a shawl or wrapping a blanket around your shoulders, around the top of the shoulder blades, upper back, then bring it forward in front of your armpits. And you'll cross behind, so you'll make an X shape on your back with the strap. And then take the hands and wherever you are on your strap, pull out. And as you pull out, you should feel the shoulders being drawn back. However, you may need to adjust, as I need to, that the straps are right at the outer edges of the collarbones. And then as you pull out, you'll get the maximum spreading of the collarbones. Step wide. So we're going to hold this harness as we do a couple of standing poses. Turn the right leg out, left foot in. Inhale, tall in the chest, and exhale, bend the right leg. Pulling, especially with your left hand, both hands pull wide, left hand to keep the right shoulder rolling back. And start to draw your right sit bone towards your left heel, tipping the torso to the side as if you're going to the side angle pose, where very often that lower shoulder gets a bit lost. But as you pull on that left hand on the strap, you can open the right shoulder back, pulling with your right hand on the strap. Of course, the left shoulder goes back both shoulders back and lean your head back a little bit. Inhale, back to warrior two. Straighten your right leg. Turn your chest now your body, turn your left foot in more to face the right side of the room. Draw both hands wide chest open and coil the thoracic spine into the chest look up with the chest, maybe the gaze also. Meanwhile, take the buttocks the tailbone down to the floor, press the left heel down. Exhale, reach your chest forward. Draw your right outer hip back, left thigh back. You can pause halfway or continue to round the spine but in either case, outer shoulders towards the ceiling. As you pull on the strap it should help you with that bottom tips of the shoulder blades narrow collarbones wide. Steady in the legs. Inhale, reach your chest forward. Coming all the way up, you're going to look again up with the chest with the gaze. And exhale, look forward. Turn your feet parallel.

And we'll start again. But to the left side, turn the left leg out, right foot in a little bit. Then the left leg, pulling straps wide collarbones go wide. A special pull with the right hand to roll the left shoulder back and then start to draw your left sit bone to your right heel. So the pelvis tips with the torso like a teapot tipping over to the side, shoulders back, bottom tips of the shoulder blades narrow, collarbones wide. Taking the head back as well, press down through your heels. And then inhale, come back up, Warrior II. Exhale, straighten your left leg. Turn to the left. Facing the left side of the room, turn your back foot in some more. Plant the feet. Release the tailbone down. Inhale, roll the sides of the chest to the ceiling, lift the side ribs, glance up with your chest with your gaze. Exhale, draw the left hip back as you reach your chest forward. Now as we come down over the left leg, the shoulders like to droop too. So stay steady pulling wide on the strap. Lift the outer shoulders to the ceiling. Even as you take your torso down, outer shoulders resist up, collarbones wide. Bottom tips of the shoulder blades narrowing. For stability, stamp the right heel down. Inhale, reach the chest forward. And coming back up, look up with your chest with your gaze. And then release. Look forward, turn the feet parallel. Unstep your feet. Together, Tadasana. Remove the strap. And you'll set the strap aside. We'll take now a standing series with Trikonasana, Ardha Shindrasana. Perhaps using the blocks again, you'll place them behind the feet as you step wide if you only have one block behind the right foot. Hands on your hips. Now you can feel the reverberation of the strap, the harness here, hopefully. So continuing with that, draw the elbows back, collarbones wide, bottom tips of the shoulder blades narrowing. And then turn the legs to the right. Right leg out, left foot in. Inhale here. Exhale again, take the right sit bone towards the left heel. Tilt your torso to the right for Trikonasana. Right hand finds the block, left arm long alongside your torso, palm down. Now remembering that harness, imagine you're pulling on the strap, spread the collarbones, both of them. So the bottom tips of the shoulder blades move gently towards one another. And then maybe look down, bend your right knee, transitioning to Half Moon Pose, Ardha Shindrasana. And again, opening the chest. Maybe bending your left knee and catch hold of the ankle. Shining the heart open. Burn the lower belly, release and bend your right knee, finding your way back to Utthita Trikonasana, Triangle Pose. Inhale, stand hands to the hips. Parallel the feet. Second side, turn your legs to the left. Inhale, elbows back. Exhale, draw the left hip towards the right heel. Shift the torso to the left and place your left hand on the block. Pause here. Roll the collarbones wide. Bottom tips of the shoulder blades coming in. Straightening your right arm. Maybe look down, bend your left leg, lift the back heel, transitioning Half Moon Pose, Ardha Shindrasana. Maybe bending your right leg, Tapasana, taking hold of the right ankle. And as the collarbones spread, the shoulders are safe and the heart gets to express itself and open. Firming around the center of gravity, draw the lower belly in and release the foot. Bend the left leg and make your way back to Utthita Trikonasana. Inhale, come up, hands on the hips, parallel the feet and step the feet together, Tadasana. Alright, let's set the block aside. So for shoulder health, we also have to open the upper back, coming to the short edge of the mat. Spread the arms wide. Inhale, exhale, right arm over the left. You can give yourself a hug or come into Garudasana, Eagle Arms. Upper back broad now, not narrowing any longer. However, if this is irksome for your shoulder, try plugging from elbow to shoulder. Plug the upper arms back and that might help. Bending your knees, Utkatasana, or maybe Garudasana in the legs, lifting the left leg and crossing it over the right. Raising the arms up, sitting the hips back and down. Breathe into the upper back. And then releasing the top leg, reach it back for a lunge. Scissor the inner thighs for stability. Inhale, lift the elbows, lift the gaze, look up. On exhale, fold over the right leg. Hug the belly up for support. And then release your arms wide like wings. Turn the palms to face forward, thumbs up. Come up like Crescent with the arms wide. And then palms face the ceiling, lift the chest, look up, breathe in. Exhale, right hand to right hip, cross your left elbow outside the right thigh, palm on palm. Twist. Again here, spread the collarbones, especially that left shoulder can pop forward. Spread the collarbones wide. Then step the left foot forward to meet the right. Utkatasana arms straight forward. And stand. Second side. Inhale, arms wide. Exhale, left arm over right, giving yourself the hug or wrapping for Garudasana. Elbows up. Inhale into the upper back. Exhale, sit the hips back and down. Maybe lift the right leg up.

Cross the right thigh over the left and hook the toe. As you lower the hips back and down to stretch out the upper back, move your arms forward and up. Breathe between the shoulder blades. Steady, release the right leg, step it back. Inhale, lift the chest, lift the arms, look up. Exhale, elbows to knees. Lift the lower belly, scoop. Releasing the arms, spread your arms wide like wings. Turn the arms, palms forward, thumbs are up. Inhale, coming up to crescent, arc the upper back. Glance up, palms up. Exhale, left hand to the left hip, hook right elbow outside your left thigh, palm on palm, and twist. Spread the collarbones. On your next exhale, step the right foot to meet the left, still twisting. And then arms forward, and stand, Tadasana. Step in the feet. Hip distance or a little bit wider. Reach back, interlace your fingers. If this goes better with a strap around the wrist, you could try that. Inhale, lift the chest, look up. Exhale, folding forward, legs straight or you can bend the knees a little bit. Reach your arms up and over, back to the shoulder blades, narrowing, collarbones wide. As you release the head down though, do lift the shoulder blades a bit, so there's space through the sides of the neck. Inhale, everyone bend the knees, flat back, sit the hips back and down, reach the chest forward. Exhale, fingertips to the floor, and let's come down to our shins. Ustrasana, camel pose. So we're going to take it with the strap. You also might want to put blocks alongside your ankles, highest height. You'll have options here. The strap goes on the same way as before. Over the tops of the shoulder blades, wrap the strap around the front of the armpits, make the crisscross in the upper back, adjust so the strap wraps around the outer collarbones, and then pull. Pull so the collarbones are wide and the shoulder blades come narrow.

You can do this with the toes lengthened back or you can tuck your toes under, whichever you prefer. Lengthening the buttocks down, roll the inner thighs back, pull wide on the straps so the collarbones widen. Inhale, lift the chest and start to look up. Imagine you have eyeballs on your chest and they're looking up. Raise the heart center towards the sky, pull wide on the strap, shoulder blades will narrow, chest will broaden, arching back. Keep the hips, though, over the knees. And then inhale and come up. Exhale, maybe you want to keep doing it with the strap. Other options, you can take it off. Hands on your hips, draw your elbows back. So duplicating the shape the strap made, but now by drawing your elbows back, roll the biceps out. Inhale again, starting the same way, lift the chest, look up. At this point, you could reach your hands to the blocks or if your toes are tucked under to your own heels. Whatever you put your hands on, if you've chosen that route down through the hands to lift the side ribs some more. Now for your neck, you might want to look forward, you might be able to look up, some of you can release the head back completely. Inhale, lift the chest to come up. Exhale. Third one, maybe you put your hands on your heels. The lowest point would be with the toes releasing back. So again, drawing the elbows back, roll the biceps out, roll the triceps in, join the bottom tips of the shoulder blades. Inhale, lift the chest, lift the chest, arc, coil, and then taking the hands to your choice of location. Press down, lift the chest, and maybe release the head back. Pressing the shins, inhale, come up, exhale, release down. Child's pose, the arms are going to go along the sides of the legs rather than out in front. Opening your knees a little bit, take your head down, and lay the arms down alongside the body, palms face the ceiling. After the backbends, allow the spinal muscles to release laterally, heavy through the pelvis. Breathe into the back body and soften around the eyes. Place your hands by your knees, press down through your palms, and slowly come up. Align back now for supported bridge or viparita karani. Take your block, and you'll take it on the height that works for you, low or medium. Block is on its widest under the upper buttock band, sacral band, or you can take it all the way up, thin with the sacrum, highest height. In any case, take a moment to tuck the shoulder blades, as we've been doing, towards one another. Collar bones are wide. Palms face the ceiling. And you could stay here, or for a deeper inversion, take the legs up overhead. Arms relatively relaxed, though, the outer upper arm, outer deltoid, press that down so that your shoulder blades scoop the chest. The chest is rising. And you can see these orange trees behind me. Imagine an orange right between the bottom tips of your shoulder blades. Give it a little squeeze, like you're squeezing one drop of juice from the orange. And that's the amount of effort you want to sustain here in the upper back. So the chest remains broad, healthy shoulders. And then you can relax the neck.

Just let the head be heavy. If your legs are up, bend your knees and place your feet on the ground. And then pressing down through the feet from the buttocks, lift the hips, remove the block to the side and lower your hips down. Perhaps just resting here, if you like, you could take halasana. Arms alongside the body, inhale, exhale, legs up and over. In this case, back is broadening, between the shoulder blades. But still press the outer upper arms down. And then firming the belly, lower down slowly, one vertebra at a time. Lean the head back so it doesn't lift. Press the arms into the mat. And once your hips touch the floor, you can bend your knees, give a little squeeze in apanasana or happy baby. And release the legs, shavasana. One more time, tucking the shoulders under, roll the biceps out, palms face the ceiling. The arms aren't too close to the body here, let there be space between the thigh and the hand. And now instead of pressing the outer upper arms into the floor, in shavasana, just a release, passive. Allow the outer upper arms to release down so that passively still the heart is open, chest broad. You're in healthy alignment and also completely relaxed.

One more time. You might choose to spend more time here, otherwise breathing in. Exhale, wiggle your toes, your fingers. And then bending your knees, turn towards the side of the healthier center. So when you lie on a shoulder, it's the more stable one. And then from there, press down through the arms and come up to a seated position. Joining your palms at the heart center. I bow to the light within you. Namaste.


Jenny S
4 people like this.
I always appreciate clever new ways to use the strap. I do have a stiff shoulder and the criss-cross method really helped me to find a better sense of openness in the standing postures. I would also say this is a great practice for the whole body as well. Lovely!
Olivia B
2 people like this.
Hello Jenny S!  Isn't it nice when our healing can encompass the whole body? I love how yoga is, ironically, such a great multi-tasking activity. Hoping that stiff shoulder turns the corner with this strap method.  Thanks for practicing with me!!
Christel B
3 people like this.
I found this to be a well rounded short practice with lots of options always given for various abilities. It's wonderful to learn new ways of using the strap as Jenny mentioned. The many cues to bring the shoulder blades together in various poses really helps with slouching shoulders. Thank you Olivia.
Olivia B
1 person likes this.
Christel B Thanks for your feedback! Yoga props are so versatile - glad you liked the variation. I'm happy to hear that the verbal cues were also helpful.  We have to stay on top of those shoulders, all of us!  Here's to good posture!!

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