Stretching the shoulders is a good way to relax and let go of stress. The shoulders open slowly over time, so modifications are explained when appropriate. Different poses move the shoulders in different ways, so we'll take a look at a variety of postures at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.
Bridge Pose - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Interlacing the hands behind your back and rolling the upper arms under your body stretches the front side of your shoulders and opens your chest. When you bring your hips down, don't release your hands first for a deeper stretch. If interlacing the hands is too intense or causes pain, you can keep your arms parallel to one another flat on the floor. A supported version of bridge is also a good option.
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
In low cobra, roll your shoulders down and hug your shoulder blades toward the midline. If you transition to full cobra, try keeping your elbows slightly bent to help keep your shoulders away from your ears.
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana
This pose has something to offer just about every part of your body, including your shoulders. It's important not to dump too much weight into your upper body here. Keep the legs active and engaged so that they carry most of your weight. If you are very flexible, don't let your chest hammock toward the floor. This is not a backbend. Keep a straight line from your tailbone to the crown of your head.
Triangle Pose - Utthita Trikonasana
Plug your arm into your shoulder socket and roll your chest open. Try to stack your top shoulder directly over your bottom one.
Bow Pose - Dhanurasana
Your hold on your ankles provides an anchor point from which to stretch your shoulders. Experiment by gripping the outside of the ankles and then the inside for a slightly different shoulder stretch.
Eagle Pose - Garudasana
Since we're focusing on shoulders here, let's ignore the legs for a minute. Try garudasana arms while in a seated position. It's a great way to stretch across your upper back. Make sure to give each arm a chance to be on top. Try it as part of your warm-up routine.
Plow Pose - Halasana
Tuck your shoulders under your body in a similar way to bridge pose (above), but this time bring your feet o the floor over your head. If you feet don't reach the floor, try setting up near a wall so your feet can rest on something.
Shoulderstand - Salamba Sarvangasana
Building upon plow pose (above), keep the same arm position and take your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Then bring your hands to your back to stabilize yourself and encourage your spine to stay perpendicular to the floor. Set up beforehand with several folded blankets under your shoulders, but keep your head off the blankets to avoid flattening the natural curve of your neck.
Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Muhka Svanasana
As in cobra (above), you want to keep your shoulders from shrugging up toward your ears. Be conscious of sliding your shoulder blades down your back.
Cow Face Pose – Gomukhasana
The binding of the arms behind your back is intense and qualifies this as an advanced shoulder stretch. Use a strap to make the connection between your hands if they don't meet easily.
Forearm Stand - Pincha Mayurasana
A strap can also be helpful in forearm stand. In this case, Make a loop in the strap that is about the width of your shoulders. Slip your arms into the loop and slide it just above your elbows. The strap will help keep your elbows from splaying apart, which causes you the lose the stability given but the proper alignment.
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
One more with a strap! In the full version of pigeon, slide the strap over your foot and hold the ends with both hands if you can't reach your foot. You can work up to the bind by moving your hands up the strap closer to your foot.
Wheel Pose - Urdhva Dhanurasana
In wheel, it's a good idea to push up to the top of your head and stop there for a moment. This gives you a chance to hug in your elbows before you straighten your arms, lifting your head from the floor. If you have tight shoulders, it may help you to set up with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders instead of right under them.