Shoulder and Chest opening yoga poses expand your heart and rib cage to provide postural benefits—especially to those of us who spend our days at desks and bent over keyboards.
The poses that open up the chest are particularly useful for modern practitioners because many people tend to spend a lot of time sitting, working on computers, or looking at mobile devices, which can lead to rounded shoulders and a forward-slumping posture. Chest opener poses, stretch the front of the rib cage, shoulders, and upper back, helping to counteract the effects of slouching and bringing the shoulders back into alignment.
Apart from this, spending so much time hunched over screens or desks makes the spine rounded which can cause Kyphosis and can cause significant spinal deformity. It’s important to counteract this posture with chest openers.
Also, Chest opening yoga poses expand the chest and ribcage, creating more space for the lungs to expand. This can improve your lung capacity, which can also enhance your overall energy levels and oxygen supply to the body.
Chest Opening Yoga Poses To Practice
The yoga practice that includes both chest openers and other postural strengthening exercises can help you develop a more aligned and balanced posture over time.
Practicing chest opener poses with mindfulness and focus can increase your body awareness, alignment, and sensations in your chest and back, and can make conscious adjustments to improve your posture throughout the day.
Chest and shoulder opening yoga poses range from mild to extreme and are most effective when done after a bending yoga pose.
Here are some beginner-friendly yoga stretches and upper-body stretches that target the chest and shoulder.
Downward Dog pose (Adhomukha Savasana)
Benefits: In Downward Dog, you can add chest variations by shifting the weight slightly forward and bringing the shoulders directly over the wrists. This helps to strengthen the shoulders and increase stability in the upper body. It also stretches the shoulders and hamstrings, improves posture, and builds upper body strength.
Steps: Start on your hands and knees, with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lift your knees off the floor, pushing your hips up and back. Straighten your arms and legs as much as possible. Relax your head between your arms, and focus on lengthening your spine and stretching your shoulders.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Benefits: Gomukhasana stretches the shoulders, upper arms, and chest. It helps alleviate tightness in the shoulders and increases flexibility. Regular practice can improve posture and relieve tension in the upper body.
Steps: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and place your right foot on the outside of your left hip. Cross your left leg over your right leg, placing your left foot on the outside of your right hip. Stack your knees on top of each other. Extend your right arm overhead, bending it at the elbow, and reach your left arm behind your back, bending it at the elbow. Try to clasp your fingers together. Repeat on the other side.
Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)
Benefits: The puppy pose stretches the shoulders, upper back, and spine. It opens the chest, elongates the spine, and releases tension in the shoulders. Regular practice can improve posture, relieve upper back pain, and promote relaxation.
Steps: Begin on all fours in a tabletop position. Walk your hands forward, keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Lower your chest towards the floor, extending your arms forward and resting your forehead on the mat or a block. Keep your hips elevated and your arms active. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and upper back. Hold for several breaths, then slowly come out of the pose.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Benefits: Cobra pose stretches the front of the torso, chest, and shoulders. It helps improve posture, strengthen the back muscles, and increase spinal flexibility. It also stimulates abdominal organs and can relieve mild back pain.
Steps: Lie face down on the floor, placing your hands under your shoulders, fingers spread wide. Press your palms into the mat and slowly lift your chest off the ground, keeping your pelvis and legs on the floor. Draw your shoulder blades back and down, opening your chest and lengthening the front of your body. Hold the pose for a few breaths and then lower back down.
Thread the Needle Pose (Parsva Balasana)
Benefits: This pose targets the shoulders, upper back, and neck. It helps to release tension and tightness in the shoulders and improves flexibility. It also gently stretches the spine and can alleviate stiffness in the upper body.
Steps: Begin on all fours in a tabletop position. Slide your right arm underneath your body, threading it between your left arm and left knee. Lower your right shoulder and temple to the floor. Extend your left arm forward or reach it up towards the ceiling for a deeper stretch. Hold for several breaths, then switch sides and repeat.
Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
Benefits: Utthita Trikonasana activates your core muscles, which aids in balance and stability. It helps strengthen the thighs, knees, and ankles, improves postural alignment, as well as opens the hips, chest, and shoulders.
Steps: Stand with your feet wide apart. Turn your right foot outwards and extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Reach your right hand towards your right foot while keeping your legs straight. Allow your left arm to extend upwards, creating a straight line from your left foot to your left hand. Repeat on the other side.
Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Benefits: Matsyasana is a powerful heart-opening yoga pose. The expansive nature of fish allows for deep breathing, which can increase lung capacity and oxygen intake.
Steps: Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms by your sides. Slide your hands underneath your hips, palms facing down. Press your forearms and elbows into the mat, lift your chest, and tilt your head back, allowing the crown of your head to rest on the floor. Keep your legs engaged or cross them in a lotus position. Hold the pose for a few breaths and then slowly release it.
Supported Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Benefits: Supported Shoulder Stand is an inversion that provides a deep stretch for the shoulders, neck, and upper back. It helps to relieve tension, improve circulation, and stimulate the thyroid gland. This pose also promotes a sense of calmness and relaxation.
Steps: Lie on your back with your legs extended. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the mat, keeping them hip-width apart. Press your palms firmly into the mat to support your lower back. Lift your legs off the ground, Use your core strength and lift your hips off the mat. Make a straight line from your shoulders to your feet. Keep your neck relaxed and gaze towards your toes. Hold the pose for a few breaths.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Benefits: Wheel Pose is a deep heart opener, stretching the front body, chest, and shoulders. It helps to expand and open the chest, increasing energy flow through the heart center. It also engages and strengthens the muscles of the back, shoulders, arms, glutes, and legs.
Steps: Lie on your back on the floor. Hands-on the mat beside your ears, fingers pointing towards your shoulders. On an inhalation, lift your hips off the floor, coming into Bridge Pose. Lift your torso off the mat, extending your arms fully and straightening them. Lifting your chest towards the ceiling, press through your hands and feet. Hold the pose for several breaths.
Chest opening poses counteract the effects of slouching and rounded shoulders, which are common in today’s sedentary lifestyle. By stretching the chest muscles and opening the front body, these poses allow for fuller and deeper breaths. This can improve lung capacity, oxygen intake, and overall respiratory function as well as help release tension and tightness in the chest, shoulders, and upper back. Also creates a sense of lightness and freedom in the upper body.
Some common chest and shoulder opening yoga poses include Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Fish Pose (Matsyasana), Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana), and Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana).
Incorporating these poses into your yoga practice can contribute to a balanced and healthy body.
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