One Pose Does it All (for Your Shoulders)

Many things contribute to pain and injury in the shoulders. One culprit is related to how our shoulders (and neck and head) sit in our overall posture.

Most of us have a slightly rounded upper back, an anterior head position, shoulders that roll forward, and a collapse of the lift in the chest.

The front of the shoulder, chest and throat is locked short, while the back of the shoulder, upper back and neck is locked long.

This leaves the shoulder blades to wing off the back, creating a rounded hump in the upper back and potentially dangerous or painful shoulder alignment.

What we need, as in all of life, is balance. To get it, we need to strengthen the muscles in our upper backs, specifically: the rhomboids, lower trapezius, teres major and serratus antertior. At the same time we need to open the front of the chest and lift it up.

There is one pose that does all this —Cactus Pose.

Cactus Pose

Cactus Pose :: Sedona, Arizona

Cactus Pose :: Sedona, Arizona

The Actions

Cactus Arms, side view

Cactus Arms, side view

  • Stand up straight; make sure your head is over your hips, not forward over your toes.
  • Lift your arms to the sides, at shoulder height, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
  • Keep your upper arms horizontal, your forearms vertical, then spin your palms to face your head.
  • Press your elbows back, but don’t let your belly or head pop forward.
  • Check that your upper arms are still horizontal and your hands haven’t dropped in towards your head (try it in front of a mirror to make sure). It won’t work if you lose this alignment!!
  • Now, lift your chest and rotate your upper arms externally, as if trying to touch the ground behind you with your thumbs.
  • You should now feel the muscles of your upper back and the back of your shoulders engaged, while your chest is getting a stretch!




Keep the Alignment

  • Memorize the alignment of cactus pose; note which muscles are engaged and which are stretching.
  • Then, slowly release your arms towards your side, but STOP if you start to lose the healthy shoulder position. (Your arms may not make it all the way down).
  • Again check that your belly, ribs and head have not popped forwards.
  • At first it will feel like you are sticking out your chest, but over time it will be more comfortable and familiar feeling.
  • Practice keeping this alignment in other yoga poses, such as Warrior 2, Downward Dog (harder because arms are overhead!), or while brushing your teeth.