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Yoga for Athletes Pose of the Month: Length + Strength for a Happy Neck and Shoulders | Part 2

Yoga for Athletes Pose of the Month: Length + Strength for a Happy Neck and Shoulders | Part 2

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 - 10:02am

Photo provided by Amy Rizzotto.

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Last month I talked about the importance of building strength in the shoulders and chest to correct muscle imbalances that contribute to bad posture, neck tension, and upper back pain. This time around, we’ll look at Prone Shoulder Opener, sometimes referred to as 8-Point Shoulder Opener, a deep stretch that opens and lengthens the muscles in this part of the body.

Before describing this therapeutic yoga pose, let’s pause for a brief anatomy lesson. The neck muscles, including the scalene, sternocleidomastoid and trapezius (or “traps), are responsible for the movement of the head and neck. Together they can move the head in every direction—have you seen The Exorcist?!

If one side is tighter than the other it will inhibit range of motion (ROM), forcing the looser side to overcompensate and consequently get over-worked. The supporting cast of these neck muscles are the shoulder muscles. Each shoulder is comprised of two main bones, the humerus and the scapula (shoulder blade), and is considered a flexible ball-and-socket joint—the hip also falls into this category. A tendon attaches your biceps muscle to your shoulder and helps to stabilize the joint. When most of us think about the shoulder—many of us know this part of our anatomy all too well having injured it in some form or another—we think of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is actually the collective efforts of four short muscles which originate on the scapula and pass around the shoulder where their tendons join together. Each part and parcel work in conjunction with the muscles of the upper body (neck included) to help the shoulders function properly as you extend, flex, lift, and throw your way through daily life.

Since this is a Yoga for Athletes pose, it’s import to point out that the neck and shoulder girdle are both critical components of athleticism. Full ROM of the neck and shoulders makes all the difference in any sport you play or activity you do. How else are you going to see your opponent coming up behind you or make sure you aren’t going to be steamrolled by a tour bus as you’re running around Hains Point? Unfortunately, the neck and shoulders are often neglected when it comes to stretching and strength training. You can avoid that pitfall with last month’s strength builder, Chaturanga Dandasana, and this month’s deep stretch, Prone Shoulder Opener.

Prone Shoulder Opener

  1. Come to a prone position, laying on your stomach, face down. Bring your arms to a “T”, palms face down.

  2. Keeping your right arm out wide, draw your left hand to the mat underneath the shoulder, elbow bent and pointing up. Push into that hand and peel your chest off the mat, rolling onto the right hip.

  3. Keep your right leg straight and bend your left leg behind it, placing the sole of the foot to the mat.

  4. Make sure your neck is relaxed, head resting on the mat or a block for support.

  5. If this is already intense, stay as is. If you want to go deeper, bring your left hand behind your back and interlace the fingers with your right hand. Only do it this if you can reach your right hand without shifting that arm down toward your feet. Deeper still? Roll the left hip back even further, possibly coming down onto the buttocks, and bend the right knee, planting the right foot next to the left, sole of the foot on the mat.

  6. Take 20 deep breaths on the right shoulder then change sides, slowly and carefully.

Prone Shoulder Opener can be an intense pose for those with tight shoulders so be sure to ease your way in and out of the posture mindfully. Over time, the body will relax into the pose and you’ll be able to go deeper. Take your time, breathe and give into this one and you’ll be amazed at how much better you move and feel.

Next month, I’ll walk you through Supported Fish, another excellent stretch for the rotator cuffs and a big chest opener.

About the Author

Amy Rizzotto, RYT-200, is a food and fitness loving blogger, yoga instructor, nutrition coach  and studio owner based in Washington, DC. Amy's passion is looking at the space where yoga and nutrition fuse for optimal athletic performance and overall mind/body wellness. Move Well DC  serves as her platform for sharing words of motivation, tasty recipes for health and workout tips. You can learn more about what she's up to by following her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @MoveWellDC.