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Week 4 – Shoulder & Chest Opening and Daily Habits

I have struggled for a long time with chest or shoulder opening poses, as these areas are very tight for me and I believe that it would only take me daily, religious and diligent stretching to get them to open up. One of my resolutions (even before YTT) is to open up this area so that I can access many more poses, the obvious being backbends. But my previous view on progress was a little too organic, i.e. if I go for a backbend class then yay good for me, otherwise I would rarely stretch out on my own at home.

The one thing that struck me the most was during our self introduction when I mentioned to Jess about my tight shoulders. She said that we should also practice yoga off the mat, such as the way we sit. There I was hugging my knees close to my chest, with a rounded back. I have been hunching my whole life! When I was about 10 years old, my piano teacher told me to stop sitting like a prawn. After decades of hunching, it is no surprise that my shoulders are tight and even though I have been practising yoga often enough (not particularly focusing on shoulder opening), it takes me a very long time to gain small improvement. This bad habit is finally biting me back after so many years in the form of punishment of No Access To Backbends. I can never straighten my arms into a nice Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow) 🙁 it looks more like a reverse tabletop.

Since that day (it’s been less than a month), I am consciously trying not to hunch, especially at work when that keyboard and laptop screen are magnets for my shoulders to hunch forward. Perhaps the unintended effect of this is looking more confident with my chest out.

Fast forward 4 weeks, and we’re learning Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand). Oh the excitement of inverting! I have been trying this pose more seriously since 2017 or 2018 maybe? But I never really had much attention or tips on it previously, and I didn’t chase the pose that much either. It was only in 2019 when I started going to inversion classes and received more guidance. One would think that inversions like Pincha Mayurasana or handstands require mainly strong arms and core, or just being strong in general, but it is also extremely important to have open shoulders and chest to be able to achieve the correct and safe alignment for the shoulders and elbows.

During the drills, it was very obvious to me (and everyone) that my tight shoulders/upper back are my limiting factor. I do not consider myself strong in my core but just enough to hold myself upside down; but it’s the tight shoulders that make it extremely difficult for me to push my chest back especially in L-shaped handstand/forearm stand.

While I am still recovering from the sore upper back from Sunday’s practice, I am making a point to myself to do shoulder/chest opening poses more diligently and often from now on. No pain no gain!!!

Some chest and shoulder opening poses are:

  • Urdhva Hastasana (Raised Hands Pose)

  • Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1)

  • Utkatasana (Chair)

  • Gomukasana (Cow Face Pose)

  • Any pose with hands clasped behind the back (e.g. Prasarita Padottasana C, Humble Warrior), also serves as a counter stretch

  • Thread the Needle Pose

  • Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)

  • Puppy Pose (Uttana Shishosana)

Michelle Cheung
200 Hour YTT Feb-May’21