Man practicing shoulder opening yoga pose to prepare for handstand

Handstand Help: Shoulder Opening

By: 
Nolan Lee DC, E-RYT, CES, PES

Open shoulders (or shoulder flexion) are essential for achieving proper alignment in Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand Pose). Let’s look at a few tips for assessing and preparing for shoulder ”openness.”Handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, handstands in yoga, shoulder flexion, alignment in yoga

The ability to “get your biceps by your ears” (flex your shoulders) lets you stack your weight correctly, making Handstand a lot easier to hold. Also, it balances the weight between the front and back sides of your body in the “Handstand teeter-totter.” 
 
If you have difficulty getting your arms in line with the rest of your body, there will be a lot of weight on the front side of your Handstand, and you’ll need to backbend to balance the weight (pictured right).

Assess Your Shoulder Flexion

One quick way to look at your shoulder flexion is the wall test.

1. Stand with your back to a wall with your heels 8 to 12 inches from the wall. Bend your knees so that the backside of your torso rests against the wall.

2. Keep your sacrum, upper back, and head on a wall with no more than a hand-width between your low back and the wall.  

Yoga at the wall, support and alignment, yoga stretches, shoulder opening, using the wall in yoga3. Then try to touch your thumbs to the wall above you. If you cannot touch it, you probably need to work on some more shoulder mobility (pictured middle right). 

4. You also might find that you arch your lower back away from the wall (pictured far right) to touch your thumbs to it. In this case, you really haven’t moved your shoulders more. You just arched your back to get your thumbs to the wall. 

Several things can affect this shoulder tightness, including posture, injuries, and core or shoulder instability. The bony construction of your shoulder joints can also affect the amount you can flex your shoulders. A qualified healthcare practitioner like a chiropractor or physical therapist could further assess. If your shoulders are just plain tight, let’s take a look at some ways to start opening them up!

How to Open Your Shoulders

Asana such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose), Catur Svanasana (Dolphin Pose) (also referred to as Ardha Pincha Mayurasana), and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) can be great poses to open your shoulders. Here are a few ways that I use blocks to do the job.

Anahatasana on Blocks      Anahatasana, Yoga with blocks, shoulder opener, table top pose, extended puppy pose

  1. Place two blocks in their lowest height side by side in front of you on a nonskid yoga mat.  

  2. From Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose) move into Uttana Shishosana (Puppy Pose), but elevate your elbow tips on the blocks to give yourself more space to drop your chest and open your shoulders. 

Supta Urdhva Hastasana (Reclining Upward Hands Pose) on Blocks

  1. Lie down on the floor.        Supta Urdhva Hastasana, reclining upwards hands pose w blocks, shoulder opener, handstand preparation, yoga w props

  2. Set up a block under your head and one under your mid-upper back. You can vary the height of the block under your back depending on how open your upper back is. 

  3. Lie on the blocks and reach over your head trying to touch your thumbs to the floor. 

  4. Remember to keep your ribs pulling down toward the front of your pelvis and belly button into your back. This action gets harder as your thumbs get closer to the floor! 

Seated Block Push        seated block push, yoga w props, shoulder opener, spine lengthening, handstand preparation

  1. Sit with a tall spine. 

  2. Hold a block by its sides in both hands and push it toward the ceiling. 

  3. Your ribs might want to lift and poke forward, but draw your ribs down toward the front of your pelvis and push up through your hands, thinking about lengthening through your armpits.

Shoulder opening is tough stuff. Keep at it, and you will see the improvements to help you get into optimal Handstand alignment. Happy Handstanding!
 

Study with Shawnee Thornton Hardy and YogaUOnline - Yoga for Kids with Special Needs: Focus on Autism and ADHD.

Reprinted with permission from Dr. Nolan Lee's nolanlee.com

Dr. Nolan Lee is a yoga teacher and physical rehab specialist in Chicago, IL, with an extraordinary passion for understanding how the body moves and functions. Nolan has the unique ability to blend the science of anatomy with the art of yoga. With an active practice at this clinic, Balanced Flow Wellness, he practically applies yoga to restore and maintain health. Dr. Lee also holds a Master of Acupuncture degree and is a NASM certified corrective exercise specialist (CES). He enthusiastically shares his knowledge of yoga and anatomy in lectures, workshops, and on his blog.

 

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