An unexpected result of my shoulder loosening routines is that my arms seem so much lighter than before. In Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), a pose that seemed to be worse than weightlifting, I can now sustain my arms outstretched with a lot more ease. When doing my bastrika breathwork, my arms rise above my head with less effort and do not get tired. So part of the fatigue issue in doing many of my hatha poses was the resistance that was coming from lack of range and flexibility, not just fighting against gravity.
Alan Little asks me for my secret sauce for loosening up my shoulders: see his comments. He even gives his own his own example. My routines are not rocket science, much more remedial. I am still waking up to my body, probably for the first time in my life, after decades of misuse.
The premise that got me started is that I don’t do anything fancy — just do it everyday, along with my meditation and pranayama practice. These are routines that are equivalent to office yoga — stuff that you can do to relieve tension from sitting at a desk all day.
- The upper torso part of Cow Face pose or Gomukhasana — I have to use a strap to reach between my hands.
- I do a simple pectoral stretch, usually pressing my arm against the wall, and the reverse that by pulling an arm across my chest.
- The clasped hands behind the back of prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged standing forward bend). I do this several times a day, loosening my shoulders and forcing my hands down as far as they will go and then lifting my arms out away from my body. This has done wonders for my mobility of my shoulder blades.
I’ve found two good books with shoulder routines: Erich Schiffmann also has eight shoulder stretches, some with a strap, in his book Yoga: The Spirit And Practice Of Moving Into Stillness. I can do only five of them. Miriam Austin in Cool Yoga Tricks has a whole section on loosening up the shoulders.
I still can’t do the top half of Garudasana or Eagle pose. My arms and hands simply will not intertwine.
Postscript: here are some other ideas for office yoga: the University of Alberta has some detailed instruction with drawings in Word format. Easy Desktop Yoga has a free video download. Cyndi Lee gives advice in Yoga Journal. And then you have My Daily Yoga, which has some fun graphics.
I discovered an ingenious way to add (what seems like) two inches to my reach — loosen up my shoulders. I’ve been concentrating on doing some simple routines over the past 2-3 weeks to increase flexibility in my shoulders, and it’s had a ripple effect across my practice and my torso. Suddenly, I find it much easier to reach the floor in forward bends or similar poses. Camel (Ustrasana) becomes easier to get into, rather than blind backward flaying in search of my heels. It also translates into longer flanks, because the farther your shoulders rise, the more your side can stretch.
I also discovered that once your shoulders are loose, it is much easier to move your shoulder blades together and down your back — I can actually feel them float down as I relax. I now realize that although I heard my instructors to manipulate my shoulder blades, I hadn’t the slightest idea of what I was doing.
All this softening means that it’s easier to open my chest more deeply. I start hearing cartilage popping and creaking.
And when I say “discover,” I am speaking facetiously.