Ten postures for the upper body

During my teaching I come across a lot of students who suffer from shoulder and back pain. This can be due to many reasons, perhaps they spend long periods of time sitting in a chair in front of a computer or lots of typing causing stress in the wrists. On the other side of coin perhaps they are super strong and active but lack mobility in the joints. Increasing the range of movement of the shoulder is incredibly beneficial for everyone and can help improve your posture in the long term.

Below are 10 exercises/stretches that you can do with minimal equipment and time! A great practice to do at the end of a long day at work.

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1. Downward dog

This pose is a great full body stretch and you can tailor it to get deeper into the arms if you want. Place the hands shoulder distance apart and the feet hip distance apart. Push the floor away with your palms sending the tailbone up and back. To get deeper into the chest you can take a bend into the knees so we take the stretch away from the hamstrings and into the upper body. Hold for 10 deep breaths or longer.

2. Extended puppy pose

This pose is very similar to Downward dog, the main difference being that we now have the knees on the floor. Try to keep your hips above your knees and keep your lower back nice and strong. Press the sternum down towards the mat to increase the stretch.

3. Puppy pose using support

As a step up from the previous pose you can add a stool or a couple of blocks underneath your elbows to elevate the chest from the floor. This allows you to find more pressure into the elbows and deepen the stretch. Still aim to keep your hips above your knees and your lower back stable.

4. Reverse table top variation

Place the hands and feet on the floor with the fingers facing towards your pelvis. Scoot your hips towards your heels and keep the bum on the floor. Press strongly into your hands, squeeze the shoulder blades together and life the chest up. You can keep the neck long or even release the head all the way back, whichever feels most comfortable for you. Take 5-10 deep breaths.

5. Table top forearm stretch

In a tabletop position rotate your hands as far round as you can so that the thumbs point to the edges of the mat. You should start to feel a deep stretch down the inside of the forearm and into the hand. If you want to deepen the stretch you can lean back slightly towards the heels, keeping the whole of the palms pressed into the floor. Hold for several deep breaths until the intensity of the posture starts to ease off.

6. Rag doll shoulder opener

Stand with your feet hip distance apart or even wider if you prefer. Interlace your hands behind your back and draw the shoulder blades together. Bend the knees and start to fold forward over towards your thighs allowing the arms to fall over past your head. The focus here is on the shoulders so don't worry about trying to have straight legs! Stay for at least 5 breaths but feel free to stay longer as long as you don't start to feel dizzy.

7. Eagle arms

You can do this pose either standing or seated, so choose whichever is easiest. With your arms out in front of you place one elbow on top of the other and wrap the arms around each other, trying to bring the palms to touch. Press the shoulders away from the ears and lift the elbows slightly. This pose can feel a little strange at first and for some it will be tricky to full wrap the arms. This one is great for opening between the shoulder blades and sometimes into the triceps. Hold for 5-10 breaths then swap which elbow is on the top.

8. Cow face arms

You can also do this one either seated or standing depending on how your hips feel. Send one arm above your head and bend at the elbow to place the palm and the bottom of your neck. Send the other arm behind the back in an internal rotation to place the back of the hand in between the shoulder blades. If you can try to grab hold of your fingers to pull the hands closer together. If you can't quite reach then you can use a strap or towel to bridge the gap between the hands. Hold here for around 10 breaths and then swap your arms around for the second side.

9. Seated side neck stretch

Either sitting cross legged or on your shins, drop your left ear to your shoulder and reach the right arm down towards the floor. Try to really extend down through your right hand, as if someone is pulling it away from you. To deepen the stretch even more you can gently use your left hand and press onto the side of the head to draw the ear closer to the shoulder. Hold for around 10 breaths then swap to the other side.

10. Cross body tricep stretch

This one can be done either seated or standing. Place one arm across your body with the thumb facing down towards the floor. With the other had place some pressure onto the forearm below the elbow and draw the arm towards the torso. Try to drop the shoulder that you are stretching away from the face, perhaps turning the head to look past it. This one targets the tricep muscles which are at the back of the upper arm. Hold for around 1o breaths and then swap sides.

These poses can be done in any order and you don't need to do them all as some of them target similar areas. Maybe pick and choose so you can mix it up each time your try them. A great way to chill out before heading to bed and if you do 1 minute per pose it only takes 10 minutes!


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