4 Yoga Poses to Help Open Your Shoulders

Open Shoulders can help with Proper Alignment in Forearm Stand

Open Shoulders can help with Proper Alignment in Forearm Stand

So many of us carry tension in our shoulders - whether it’s from sitting at a computer for hours a day, using our smartphones, or even from the way we sleep - the shoulders are one of the most common parts of our body to hold stress.  Having stiff shoulders can affect our yoga practice too.  Many of the poses we perform are compromised when there is a limited range of motion in the shoulders (such as Forearm Stand).

Shoulder-opening poses are a great way to relieve tension and to help prevent injury in postures that require the shoulders to be more open.  Below are 4 of my go-to shoulder-opening postures:

1. Garudasana (Eagle) Arms

Garudasana Arms

Garudasana Arms

  • While in a comfortably seated position, reach your arms straight forward and parallel to the ground.

  • Spread your scapula wide as you cross your left arm over your right.

  • Bend your elbows. Your left elbow should be directly inside of the right one, and the backs of your hands should be facing one other.

  • Continue to twist the arms so that the palms of the hands are facing one another. Then press the palms together as much as you comfortably can.

  • Raise your elbows up, reaching the fingertips toward the sky.

  • Hold for 10 breaths, then release, and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

2. Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

Shoulder Stretch with Blocks

  • Begin sitting on your shins. Place two blocks, on their highest height, about 6-8 inches on either side of you and slightly in front of you.

  • Bring your hands to prayer pose behind your head, so that your fingers are pointing down toward the ground. Slowly lean forward until both elbows are resting on the blocks. It's ok if your hips lift up slightly.

  • Gently lower your head down as you sink your hips back slightly. Make sure to only go as far as feels comfortable for your body.

  • Hold for 10-15 breaths, then come up to release.

3. Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle

Thread the Needle

  • Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Your knees should be hip-width apart.

  • Slide your left arm under your right arm, with the palm facing up. Allow your left shoulder to lower all the way down to the ground . Rest your left cheek on the mat.

  • Keep your hips raised. You can extend your right hand toward the front of the mat, or straight up toward the sky. You can gaze upward if that feels comfortable for you as well.

  • Make sure not press weight onto your head, instead, and keep your lower back relaxed. Allow all of the tension in your shoulders, arms, & neck to malt away.

  • Hold for 5-8 breaths. Slowly slide your left out out to exit and release. then repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

4. Gomukhasana Arms

  • While n a comfortably seated position, reach your left arm out toward the left so that its parallel to the floor. Rotate your arm inwardly so that your thumb is pointing down.

  • Gently bend your left arm and place your hand behind your back. Roll your left should down and back, and begin to inch your left hand upward so that its parallel to your spine. Try to get the back of your left hand between your shoulder blades.

  • Now extend your right arm reaching it up toward the sky. Bend your right elbow and reach your right hand down for the left hand.

  • If you're unable to hook the right and left fingers, try using a strap so that you can reach.

  • Try to keep the chest lifted, as you lean back slightly.

  • Hold for 10-12 breaths, then slowly release and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

Gomukhasana Arms

Gomukhasana Arms

Gomukhasana Arms using a Strap

Gomukhasana Arms using a Strap

Fall-ing for Yoga, 4 Poses To Help Balance Your Autumn Practice

The leaves have started to change color, the days have grown shorter and cooler, and pumpkin spice lattes are now back on the menu... fall is officially here.  My personal favorite way to welcome autumn includes cozy sweaters and a new pair of booties (not to mention a little extra Netflix time).  But there is one additional thing I've added to this year's list, and that is to balance out my yoga practice with a few key poses for fall. The ones I've listed below really help my body transition through the season more gracefully.  Oh, and there is one more thing I forgot to mention - a cute new yoga outfit always makes coming to the mat a lot more exciting.  The one I'm wearing in all of the photos here is by Sam Edelman, and it couldn't be more perfect for this fall!

1. Get Grounded

It turns out that along with the change in weather, it's also quite common to experience some extra nervous energy during this transitional season.  Practicing grounding poses, including this Chair Pose Variation can help the body feel stronger and more centered. 


Chair Pose Variation

Chair Pose Variation

  • Separate your feet about the width of your mat, with your toes turned outward.

  • Ground your feet firmly into the floor as squat down, lowering your torso onto your thighs and keeping your hips in line with your knees.

  • Extend your arms forward. Reach them all the way toward the front of the room as you reach your hips all the way back.

  • Keep your core engaged and your belly lifting up.

  • Squeeze your triceps inward toward your ears and press your palms away.

  • Hold for five breaths, then release and repeat 3 more times.

2. Build Heat & Feel Energized

Though its tempting to just stay in and hibernate as the weather cools down, it's important to get the body warmed up to combat the stiffness that often accompanies the cold.  Incorporating energizing poses, such as Bridge Pose (or any heart-opening pose) is a great way to build heat in the body.

Bridge Pose

Bridge Pose

  • Begin lying on your back, with the knees bent, with your feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides.

  • Raise the hips up toward the ceiling and either interlace the hands together or leave the arms down by the sides of the body.

  • Keep the neck in neutral as you continue to life the hips higher.

  • Hold for five breaths, then lower and repeat 2 more times.


3. Cleanse & Detox

Fall time is, unfortunately, often accompanied by cold & flu season. Spending extra time indoors only helps germs to spread faster.  Yoga twists, such as Revolved Triangle Pose are a great way to boost the body’s natural detoxification process by helping to flush the toxins from the body and promote cleansing on a cellular level.

Revolved Triangle Pose

Revolved Triangle Pose

  • Begin with your feet about 2-3 feet apart, and align the right heel with the left heel. Pivot your right foot out 90 degrees and turn your left foot slightly inward.

  • Reach your left arm up toward the ceiling, Hinge forward from your hips, keeping length in the spine and open your torso to the right as you place your left hand to the outside of your right foot. Use your right hand, if necessary, to draw your left hip back so it stays in line with your right hip.

  • Lengthen your spine and roll your right shoulder back as you extend your right arm upward. Reach the left fingertips toward the ceiling. If possible, turn your head to gaze at your right thumb.

  • Hold for five breaths, then slowly release and repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time

4. Rest & Restore

Restorative yoga poses help us disconnect from the frenzied pace of daily life.  The slow pace and deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect on our minds and bodies.  Studies have shown that this type of relaxation, including poses like Legs Up the Wall, can help fend off depression, provide higher quality sleep, and improve mental health.

Legs Up the Wall pose

Legs Up the Wall pose

  • Begin by sitting with the right side of your body against the wall. Using your hands to balance, gently swivel your body to the right as you lower your torso to the floor and bring your legs up onto the wall.

  • Rest your shoulders and head on the floor. Wiggle your body from side-to-side to scoot your sitting bones closer to the wall. Let your arms gently rest at your sides, or place your left hand on your heart center, and your right hand on your belly.

  • Close your eyes and stay here for 5-10 minutes. Notice your breath as you lie here.

  • Slowly release by pushing yourself gently away from the wall as you slide your legs down and return to a seated position.

* Outfit worn throughout is by Sam Edelman

5 Poses to Help Prepare for Ardha Chandra Chapasana

Ardha Chandra Chapasana, or 'Sugar Cane' pose, is a standing balancing with an asymmetrical backbend.  This variation of Half Moon Pose opens the psoas and hips, and lengthens the spine with a gentle twist.  The key to finding more ease in this challenging posture lies in properly warming up the body, and of course having a consistent practice.  After flowing through a few rounds of Sun Salutations, I like to deepen my warm-up with the following poses before moving into Chapasana.



1. Three-Legged Downward Facing Dog

1. Come onto all fours, with your shoulders directly over your wrists and your hips over your knees.  Tuck your toes and straighten your legs, coming into Downward Facing Dog.

2. Step both feet together so that your big toes are touching.  Shift your weight into your hands and your left foot, and with an inhale raise your right leg up to the ceiling. Try to keep your hips squared, and your shoulders parallel with the ground.  Your ears should be in line with your arms, as you reach the crown of  your head toward the ground.

3. Hold for five breaths, then lower your right leg down, and repeat on the opposite side.

2. Uttanasana

1. Begin in Tadasana, with your hands on your hips.  Exhale and lengthen the front of your torso as you bend forward at the hips.

2. Press your heels down toward the floor as you reach your sit bones upward. Spin the tops of your thighs slightly inward. Don't lock your knees.  

3.  Keep your hips aligned over our ankles as you shift the weight of your body to the balls of your feet.  With each inhale lift and lengthen your torso.

4.  Hold the pose for 10 breaths.  To exit, place your hands on your hips and return to Tadasana with a straight spine.

3Extended Side Angle Pose

1. Begin in Warrior II pose, with left knee bent.  Lower the left elbow down to the left knee. Inhale the right arm up towards the ceiling and then exhale the arm over the right ear, creating a straight line with the right side of your body.

2.  Make sure the left knee stays bent directly over the left ankle.  Slowly sink the hips down towards the floor, and actively reach the right hand in the opposite direction of the right foot.

3. Hold for five breaths. To release, inhale reach the right fingers up and back into Warrior II. Repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

4. Runner's Stretch (Ardha Hanumanasana )

1. From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your hands. Lower your left knee down onto your the ground, and un-tuck the top of the left foot.

2. Align your left hip over your left knee. Flex your right foot, pushing you heel away from you and reaching your toes back toward you.  Straighten your right leg as much as you comfortably can.

3.  Inhale and lengthen your spine.  Keeping your hips square, slowly begin to fold over your right leg while reaching your chest forward.

4.  Hold for 6 breaths.  To exit, tuck the left toes under, place the palms on the floor, and step back into Downward-Facing Dog.  Repeat on the opposite side for the same length of time.

5. Ardha Chandra Chapasana

1. From Warrior II pose, exhale and bring the left hand down in front of your left foot.  If you can't comfortably reach the floor, place a block under the hand.

2. Bring your right hand to your right hip, and begin to open your chest.  Slowly shift your weight into your left foot as you keep the toes spread wide.

3. With an inhale, lift the right leg up so that the inner thigh and inner arch of the foot are parallel with the floor. Find your stability here.

4. Open your right hip so it's stacked on top of your left, and open your torso toward your right.  Bend your right knee, and take a hold of your right foot with your right hand.  

5.  Ground down through your left leg.  Feel your ribcage expand as it lifts toward the sky.  Kick your foot into your hand so that your heel moves away from your seat while lifting your chest forward and up.  Once you find balance here, turn your gaze toward the sky. 

6.  Hold  for 3-5 deep breaths.  Slowly release and repeat on the other side.