Since the first time I experienced restorative yoga, I am completely hooked. Most importantly, because this yoga style focuses on the release of tension. And of tension, I have a lot 🙂 Thus, this relaxing style holds many soothing yoga poses for shoulder pain relief.
Why try restorative yoga for shoulder pain relief?
Restorative poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system and work deeply to help your body rest and heal. A relaxation response is triggered by allowing more time for each asana and focusing on full, deep breaths. Tension leaves the body while calmness enters. And that’s exactly what you need if your body feels strained. The following poses help you open up your upper body whenever you experience shoulder pain.
Restorative yoga: how to start
Fortunately, you do not need to master any advanced yogic skills to start with restorative yoga. All you need are a few props and a bit of time 🙂 A starting kit for restorative yoga does not need to be expensive nor extensive. A great starting point would be 1) a yoga block, 2) a bolster, 3) a yoga blanket, and 4) a yoga mat. If you don’t have props at home, but you’re looking for instant pain relief, don’t worry. Any of these props can be replaced with something you most probably have at home 🙂
Some alternatives to yoga props
- A yoga block: a rather sturdy hardcover book will also do the trick.
- A bolster: combine two to three thick pillows to create a similar shape.
- A yoga blanket: take a cozy couch blanket and fold it neatly.
- A yoga mat: can easily be replaced by an exercise mat or your bed.
All set? Then let’s get to work with these yoga poses for shoulder pain relief.
1. Supported chest opener
Yoga prop: bolster
This restorative yoga pose is a combination of all things good: a slight backbend, a heart opener, and a total recline (hello relaxation mode!). The size and shape of the bolster facilitate a comfortable resting position, while gravity does the job. That’s why it’s one of the most accessible yoga poses for shoulder pain.
How-to supported chest opener
- Sit in front of the bolster (you can use your yoga mat, but I sometimes prefer to do this exercise lying on my bed).
- Move the bolster as close as possible to your sacrum. As you lean back to lie down on your back, make sure the bolster keeps its connection to your lower back.
- Roll the shoulders down and open and let your hand palms face up.
- Ensure that your shoulders are as far down and open as you can get them. Try pulling your shoulder blades together and keep your elbows pointing inward, not outward.
- Stay a few minutes in this position or as long as you like.
- You may repeat this exercise as many times as you want.
- If you prefer your back to be more elevated, tuck the yoga block underneath the bolster (ideally near where your shoulder blades would land) and repeat the process.
2. Puppy pose variation
Yoga prop: yoga mat
There’s nothing I use so often during the day as my precious yoga mat. If you are working from home like me, you might even want to keep your yoga mat rolled out and do a few shoulder exercises every 1-2 hours. Otherwise, stretch a few minutes in the morning and in the evening. A great way to open the shoulders with the help of just your mat.
How-to puppy pose variation
- Sit on your shins and knees, with your toes curled under.
- Open your knees a bit wider than hip-width.
- Now, move forward by laying your forearms shoulder-width on your mat. Keep your shoulders down.
- You may support your head with a few pillows or let your forehead touch your mat.
- Place your hand palms together and move your hands over your head to the back of your neck.
- Keep your fingers together and keep your elbows pointing inwards.
- If done correctly, most times, you’ll feel a nice stretch along the shoulders and the backsides of your arms.
- Stay for a few minutes and repeat as often as you’d like.
3. Wing on the ground
Yoga prop: blanket and yoga mat
This Yin yoga-inspired pose is a quite intense shoulder opening. It’s my go-to pose on days that nothing else works. But, be aware of the intensity of the pose and move mindfully.
How-to wing on the ground
- Start on your belly with your legs stretched out entirely and your forehead touching your mat.
- Your arms are spread out sideways as you would start in airplane pose. Your hand palms are facing the floor.
- Keep your left arm on the floor while you roll onto the left side of your body.
- Bend both knees slightly and tuck the yoga blanket between both knees for comfort and stability. Make sure your pelvis stays aligned with your spine.
- Ensure your neck stays long and both shoulders are rolled out and down.
- Now, stretch out your right arm in front of you and move it to the backside of your body by drawing a half-moon in the sky.
- If you can, let your fingertips touch the floor or let the backside of your right-hand rest on your lower back.
- If you feel discomfort in your neck, you can support your head with an extra pillow or blanket.
- Stay in this position for a minute or for as long as feels comfortable.
- Afterward, roll back to the starting position and switch sides. Repeat the process.
4. Reclined resting pose
Yoga prop: yoga block
This is one of my favorite exercises to combat shoulder pain, as you might have read in my article Shoulder pain after sleeping? 5 simple tricks. What you need for this exercise are a flat, relatively soft surface (your bed or a yoga mat) and a yoga block.
How-to reclined resting pose
- Try lying on your back with the yoga block tucked between your shoulder blades.
- I prefer to keep the long side of the yoga block aligned with my back, going along the spine.
- Meanwhile, your legs are stretched out and pointing slightly sideways, with your feet in a comfortable position.
- Roll your shoulders open (to either outer side) and down (away from your head).
- Now and then, double-check if your shoulders are still really down.
- Stay in this pose for a few minutes and as long as you feel comfortable.
- You can repeat this exercise as often as you like.
- Make sure to keep your pelvis straight, as you might tend to tilt it (anteriorly) in this pose. For spinal alignment, which we essentially want to achieve, the pelvis must stay straight.
Discovering new ways to release pain
Combining the props to create new exercises that help your body is what I do on most days that I’m in pain. I often discover new yoga poses for shoulder pain when other poses don’t help. While on some days, it might be enough to just lay on the bolster, on other days, you could long for a more intense stretch. When your shoulder pain is accompanied by pain in your neck, you might want to relieve the neck by putting a yoga blanket under your head (leave the neck-part free).
Explore with curiosity
So, try to check in with your body and feel what it needs. Don’t be afraid to explore; it can actually be joyous to play around with the props and find new methods. If you navigate the pain relief process curiously and mindfully, it will most definitely provide you with new insights that help release the pain.
Want to practice more frequently?
My post 3 exercises for open shoulders: develop good posture and prevent pain might help. In this post, I share exercises that you can do while sitting, standing, or walking. No yoga props required. Exercising is a great addition to practicing yoga poses for shoulder pain. The integrated approach lets you practice more throughout the day. As a result of practicing regularly, you may experience faster progress.
Looking for more yoga poses for shoulder pain relief?
Thankfully, there’s plenty of stuff around! In my ongoing search for shoulder pain relief, I have found many helpful sources along the way. Yoga Journal has an extensive library of yoga sequences on literally every focus area you could think of. Try, for instance, the following yoga poses for shoulder pain: 5 Shoulder-Opening Binds to Ground & Cleanse The Body. Besides Yoga Journal, I am always geeking out over how well David Keil explains everything yoga and anatomy. His website is, not surprisingly, called Yoganatomy 🙂 Be prepared to find heaps of wonderful info in A Comprehensive Guide To The Shoulder In Yoga.
Regarding any form of bodily movement or exercise, please note the following. If you are in severe pain or have a known condition, please consult with your treating doctor. Don’t continue to practice if you experience pain while doing so. Only practice for as long as it feels comfortable and practice mindfully. Be aware of how your body reacts.
Did you enjoy reading this post?
I sure hope you did 🙂 If you have any questions, recommendations, or experiences you want to share, I’d be more than happy to read your thoughts! You can leave your comment in the field below. Do you know someone who could benefit from these yoga poses for shoulder pain? Feel free to share this post (via the URL bar or any of the social share buttons) and get the positive energy flowing!